Belgium’s current crop of talented players has been together for some time and two years ago when the draw was made for the qualifying rounds, the sense of anticipation began. Here was a team containing individuals who were becoming highly sought after by the top sides in Europe – Eden Hazard, Jan Vertonghen, Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke now earn their living in the English Premiership while Axel Witsel and Thibaut Courtois are making their names in Russia and Spain respectively.
Now did Belgium qualify for world cup 2014? Yes, and that sense of excitement around the Belgian team only heightened when Marc Wilmots’ men breezed through what could have been a potentially tricky qualifying group.
Belgium world cup qualifying fixtures:
|Croatia||1 – 1||11 September 2012||Gillet 45+1′||1 – 1||11 October 2013||Lukaku 16′, Lukaku 38′|
|Serbia||2 – 1||7 June 2013||De Bruyne 13′, Fellaini 60′||0 – 3||12 October 2012||Benteke 34′, De Bruyne 68′, Mirallas 90+1′|
|Scotland||2 – 0||16 October 2012||Benteke 68′, Kompany 71′||0 – 2||6 September 2013||Defour 34′, Mirallas 89′|
|Wales||1 – 1||15 October 2013||De Bruyne 64′||0 – 2||7 September 2012||Kompany 42′, Vertonghen 83′|
|Macedonia||1 – 0||26 March 2013||Hazard 62′||0 – 2||22 March 2013||De Bruyne 26′, Hazard 62′|
Wilmots’ squad were drawn in UEFA Group A against Croatia, Scotland, Wales, Serbia and Macedonia. On paper, the Croatians were the biggest threat and while the Belgians were expected to do well against the remaining sides, a second placed finish would have left them with the lottery of the play offs.
Wales were building a young, talented team around the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey and were certainly dangerous while Serbia and Macedonia also had the capacity to take points of the stronger nations.
The opening tie in this group saw Belgium travel to face the Welsh and although it seemed a tricky contest on paper, the game ended in a comfortable 2-0 victory for Wilmots’ men. Interestingly, the goals were scored by central defenders – Vincent Kompany opened the scoring in the 42nd minute before Jan Vertonghen doubled the lead with seven minutes left on the clock.
Belgium had been hoping that their twin strike force of Benteke and Lukaku would make an impression in the early fixtures but it was another defender, right back Guillaume Gillet who scored his side’s only goal in the second match – a 1-1 draw with Croatia.
A tight group emerges
At that stage in qualifying, Belgium and Croatia were locked together at the top of Group A but it was Wilmots’ team who stayed ahead on goal difference. Aston Villa’s Benteke seemed to find his range and he aided the Belgians in four consecutive victories against Scotland, Serbia and Macedonia twice.
The pleasing aspect for the manager was the fact that his defence conceded no goals in that four game period and that could have been a vital factor if the Croatians were to maintain their challenge at the top. Kompany and Vertonghen were at the heart of a mean defence and behind them, Thibaut Courtois was superb between the posts. Belgium eventually did concede in a 2-1 home win over Serbia but by now, the World was beginning to see just why people were getting excited about this squad.
The crucial tie
Having kept pace with Belgium all the way, Croatia inexplicably lost to a weak Scottish side before drawing away to the Serbs. They were virtually handing the group to their rivals and the group was settled when the Belgians won 2-1 in Zagreb on 11 October 2013.
Romelu Lukaku was the hero on the night with both goals but incredibly, they were the only two strikes in all qualifying from the Chelsea man. Belgium had scored 18 times in 10 matches but crucially, that tight defence only conceded on four occasions.
Christian Benteke has been ruled out of Brazil 2014 with a long term injury but Belgium’s record in qualifying suggests that he may not be missed. Those 18 goals were shared around the team with five players finishing as joint top scorer with two apiece.
Belgium to win World Cup are rated at 18/1 with Coral and the side proved they can be a goal scoring threat from anywhere on the field. Meanwhile, Courtois and his resolute defenders will be the key performers if this impressive squad are to give you a return on that price.