by Josh Green

Belgium is not the most decorated footballing nation in the world, nor is it producing hordes of fantastic footballers like footballing superpowers Spain and Germany, but out of its 11,041,266 estimated population it is developing some very good, exciting talent.

Belgium’s top league, known as the Pro League, is by no means the most famous league in Europe, but it is producing some of Europe’s future stars.  The three biggest teams in the Pro League are Standard de Liège, Club Brugge KV and RSC Anderlecht. All three of these teams average crowds of over 20,000 at their home games and have all appeared in the finals of European competition.

Onto the National team, Belgium have not qualified for the World Cup since 2002, when it was co-hosted by Japan and South Korea, but I am confident they will qualify for Brazil 2014. I believe Belgium will be the ones to watch in Brazil and it would be a wise move to bet on them reaching the Semi-Finals of the tournament.

Let’s take a look at some of their players:

Goalkeepers:

Belgium have two very exciting young goalkeepers at their disposal at the moment, currently the one with the most caps is 24 year old Simon Mignolet. Mignolet is currently plying his trade at Premier League side Sunderland. The Belgian shot stopper had to fight for his place at Sunderland, displacing two other highly rated keepers in Craig Gordan and new Irish number one Keiren Westwood.

The second young keeper Belgium have to offer is 20 year old Thibaut Courtois, who is currently impressing on loan at Spanish side Atlético Madrid.  Courtois  has made 54 appearances for the Madrid side since joining on loan from European champions Chelsea. A towering figure at 6 feet 6 inches, the Belgian is considered the perfect replacement for the current Chelsea number one Petr Čech. Čech was quoted as saying that Courtois “is one of the best talents in European football.”

Defenders:

Current head coach Marc Wilmots is spoilt for choice when it comes to defenders but three defenders in particular stand out for me. The first one is current Premier League Champion and Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany. A product of the Anderlecht youth system, Kompany has always been touted as having the potential to be a great player. Last season he proved he is one of the best defenders in the world. Kompany is captain of the Belgian National Team and leads with honour, distinction and skill. A credit to his country and current club side City, who bought their captain for £6 million, which has proved to be great business.  Still only 26 years old and equally adept at defending high crosses as he is with the ball at his feet. I am sure Kompany will be a firm fixture in this squad for a long time.

Hasta la vista. The Vertinator at this summer’s Olympics.

The next defender I’m going to mention is another Premier League starter, Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen. Known as “The Verminator” around the Emirates Stadium, Vermaelen is a strong robust defender and also very comfortable with the ball at his feet. Vermaelen started his football career at the famous Ajax Academy and played for them 143 times in all competitions before joining The Gunners. Also still only 26 years old, despite seeming to have been around for a lot longer, the Belgian is an excellent centre back but is also very comfortable playing at left back, which he has done on numerous occasions for his country. An almost flawless defender, Vermaelen is very important to Belgium and will be a certainty for all their games if fit. The only negative is the former Ajax player is very susceptible to injury.

Jan Vertonghen, last year’s winner of Voetballer van het Jaar (Dutch Footballer of the Year) is the last out of a vast choice of defenders I am going to talk about. Vertonghen, who signed for Spurs this summer, has started his life in the Premier League successfully, and that is no surprise. Capped 40 times for his country, the 25 year old,similarly to Kompany and Vermaelen, is calm and composed while in possession of the football and has often played in a holding midfield role for his country. Vertonghen is extremely talented but faces stiff competition for a centre back role for his country.

Midfielders

After boasting such an impressive selection of talent in the goalkeeping and defence departments Belgium also have a midfield worthy of flaunting. The midfield is well balanced and dynamic which sums up the next player worthy of a mention. Tottenham Hotspur’s new boy Moussa Dembélé. Under Martin Jol at Fulham in the 2011/2012 season, Dembélé started playing in a deeper midfield role, which suited the Belgian perfectly. Dembélé has fantastic close control and the ability to glide past opposition players as if they are mere statues. This rare skill often starts attacks from deep and is an invaluable asset to the Belgian midfield. 25 years old and reaching his peak, Moussa Dembélé is really one to watch out for.

Still only 24 years old, Marouane Fellaini is one of Belgium’s most recognisable players, thanks to his colossus afro hairstyle perched proudly upon his head. The big haired Belgium has a unique playing style and is a handful for defenders, especially when he manages to control a high pass so eloquently with his chest. Fellaini has been pivotal to his club side Everton’s good start to the 2012 Premier League season, with a number of goals and assists but also a great work ethic, that Toffees manager David Moyes instills into all of his players. The Everton man is a very physical player but his close control skills with a football are not to be under-rated.

With all the flair and goal scoring power the Belgian midfield possess, they need somebody to break up opposition play and that man is Axel Witsel. The tough tackling midfielder must go to the same barbers as Marouane Fellaini, as he also boasts a rather impressive afro. Witsel is still only 23 years old and has recently left Benfica for the staggering sum of €40 million to join Russian giants Zenit St Petersburg. Witsel has been given the reputation of an extremely robust midfielder and some critics say he is “too robust” but I believe the former Benfica man is key to their success.

Forwards

After flaunting such a talented midfield do Belgium have anything else to show off about? Well yeah, they do, one of the most exciting young footballers in Europe plays for them, two time winner of the prestigious UNFP Ligue 1 Player of the Year, Eden Hazard. This summer Hazard left to join Premier League side Chelsea for a transfer fee of £32 million. The 21 year old was hot property and a number of high profile clubs were rumored to be chasing his signature and you can see why. Hazard has mesmerizing pace and quite stunning technical ability. Full of flair, the Belgian supplies the forward line effectively but also has a great eye for goal as well, scoring 22 times in 44 appearances in all competitions last season. Hazard will be striking fear into opposition defenders at the highest level for a long time.

Belgium’s flair and quick attacking play has the perfect spearhead, the 19 year old power house Romelu Lukaku. Hailed as the next “Didier Drogba”, Lukaku is a raw, powerful Centre Forward, with the strength of a rampaging rhinoceros, he can bully even the most experienced of defenders. This young striker is also contracted to Chelsea but has been sent out on loan to fellow Premier League side West Brom. Lukaku made his debut for Belgium at the age of just 16 and has gone from strength to strength. Already impressing at West Brom, Chelsea fans should be aware they have a real diamond of a striker on their hands here.

With such a strong spine to the squad, anything less than qualification to the 2014 World Cup for Belgium should be deemed as disaster. The other players in the Belgium squad complement this strong spine very well and their next test is this evening, a tricky fixture away to a strong Serbia side.

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