Take a look at the outright 2014 World Cup betting odds and you may be rather surprised. Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain are the first four in the market. No surprises there, but the fifth favourites in most bookies’ list may raise an eyebrow.
England, France, Holland, Italy or Portugal, perhaps? Or maybe one of the up-and-coming South American sides: Chile, Columbia or Uruguay? Surely it’s one of the above, right? Nope, wrong. It’s Belgium. Yep, the Belgians are as short as 14/1 to win the World Cup in Brazil this summer.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
Tasty Belgian squad
The Belgium national side disappeared off the radar for many years, but they are back with a vengeance now. It’s bizarre – it’s almost as though, all of a sudden, the country gave birth to an elite squad of players and they crept up on everyone, unbeknownst.
Perhaps the main reason Belgium hasn’t been prominent on the footballing map is that the Jupiler Pro League is hardly revered as one of the better leagues in Europe. However, it’s not that the academies of clubs such as Anderlecht, Genk and Standard Liège aren’t producing talent; the issue is that the talent they’re producing is being poached from their academies by wealthy clubs outside of Belgium.
In fact, a third of the current national team have never played football in their home country, and 10 of the Belgium players named in the World Cup squad for Brazil currently ply their trade in the Premier League. The impact those players have made on the English top-flight this season augurs well ahead of this summer’s tournament, and the Red Devils are very much the ‘dark horses’.
Belgium squad brimming with Premier League Stars
You’ll know the names of the Premiership movers-and-shakers, but you may not have realised that they’re Belgian…
The Brussels-born 19-year-old has opted to represent Belgium rather than the four other countries he’s eligible to play for, including England, much to the delight of Diables Rouges’ coach Marc Wilmots. Januzaj, who signed a new five-year deal with Manchester United in October, is widely regarded as one of the brightest prospects in the game and, though he is relatively inexperienced, the creative midfielder could make a big impact in Brazil this summer.
Attacking midfielder Hazard has rapidly developed into one of Chelsea’s most prized assets – and one of the best in the Premier League overall. The 23-year-old was recently awarded the PFA Young Player of the Year award in recognition of his fine season with the Blues, in which he has so far scored 14 goals and delivered seven assists. Part of the reason why Belgium are so prominent in the 2014 World Cup betting will be due to Hazard’s presence alone.
Lukaku has improved markedly at Everton this season, where he is on loan from Chelsea. It’s hard to believe that he is only 20 years of age – he has so much presence and strength, in addition to bags of pace, which have led to comparisons between him and Didier Drogba. Lukaku is a clinical finisher – he’s scored 13 times for the Toffees during the current campaign – but he’s also a solid all round team player, as his six assists illustrate. He will strike fear into opposition defenders in Brazil.
The 28-year-old, who was born in Uccle, has developed into one of the Premier League’s leading central defenders during his time with Manchester City. Kompany, who joined the Sky Blues from Hamburg in 2008, reads the game exceptionally well and, in addition to being a typically robust defender, he is also very agile and comfortable on the ball. He will keep the Belgium backline solid and organised in South America this summer.
Fellaini’s first season at Manchester United has been something of a baptism of fire, but he remains one of the most imposing midfielders in the Premiership and he was often Everton’s standout player before making the switch to Old Trafford last summer. The 26-year-old provides Belgium with a rock in the middle of the park where his work-rate is exceptional. He is also dangerous from set-pieces due to his aerial presence.
The 26-year-old joined Everton from Olympiakos for £6m in 2012 and what a good bit of business that turned out to be. Indeed, Mirallas has impressed for the Toffees this season, weighing in with a highly respectable eight goals in 28 Premier League appearances this season, but more importantly establishing himself as a consistent, solid part of Roberto Martinez’s team. He is currently injured, but is expected to be fit for the World Cup in Brazil.
While he hasn’t been at his best in recent matches for Tottenham, Vertonghen remains one of the most coveted central defenders in Europe at present. It is believed that the 27-year-old has fallen out with current Spurs boss Tim Sherwood, and reports suggest that he has played his last game for the club amid interest from the likes of Barcelona and Roma. Whatever happens at club level in the near future, Vertonghen will be one of the best centre-backs on show in Brazil this summer.
In addition to the aforementioned players, prolific Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke is also a Belgium international, though he will miss this summer’s World Cup through injury. Other names you may be familiar with include goalkeepers Simon Mignolet and Thibaut Courtois, of Liverpool and Atletico Madrid respectively (the latter is on loan with the La Liga outfit from Chelsea).
Kevin de Bruyne, who currently plays for Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg, is another Belgian player that will be well known to Premier League followers from his time with Chelsea, while Arsenal defender Thomas Vermalen and Spurs duo Mousa Dembele and Nacer Chadli are other names that will be instantly recognisable.