After not qualifying for a major tournament in 12 years, Belgium face Algeria in their first match of the World Cup competition. In a squad that oozes strength and power, Belgium are tipped by many as the 'dark horses' of this competition and are expected to progress through the group stages with ease.
The Belgian Squad
The result of a 10-year youth development programme carried out by the Belgian Football Federation is nothing short of miraculous. The young talent that has emerged from the Belgian borders includes Everton's prolific goal scorer Romelu Lukaku, the Premier League's Young Player of the Year Eden Hazard and Atletico Madrid's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who is regarded as one of the finest stoppers in the world. Belgium was boosted by the late arrival of Manchester United star Adnan Januzaj. The 19-year-old has Albanian and Bosnian roots but after playing for Belgian youth academies, he made a last minute pledge to the Red Devils to further their World Cup prospects.
Belgium are gifted defensively - their back line includes Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany, the versatile Jan Vertonghen and full-back Toby Alderweireld who finished runner-up in the Champions League. The defenders are protected by holding midfielders Axel Witsel and Moussa Dembele of Tottenham Hotspur.
Belgium's manager and tactician is Marc Wilmots - a former Belgian striker who captained the team in their last World Cup in 2002. To exploit the pace of the current squad, he encourages the team to press their opponents high up the pitch. The intention is that their opposition will not match the Belgium pace and this forces errors and leads to goals on the counter-attack.
Such tactics have seen the Belgian squad unbeaten in the World Cup qualifiers. In their recent World Cup friendlies, they recorded three out of three wins, scoring eight and conceding only one.
The Algerian Squad
The picture for Algeria is not as rosy. 'The Fennecs' as they are known, exited the World Cup 2010 without scoring a single goal. To continue their bad run of form, they were knocked out of the group stage of the African Nations Cup last year despite high expectations.
Their new manager, Vahid Halilhodzic, has come in with a fresh approach and a complete squad clearout. Halilhodzic is banking on the young talent of his side to the point that 16 out of the 23 players will be playing in their first World Cup. So clearly this is another team in transition, similar to England, who are using this World Cup as a stepping-stone for greater things.
Valencia's Sofiane Feghouli is the young attacking midfielder most likely to cause Belgium any problems. English fans will also recognize Tottenham youngster Nabil Bentaleb in the fold.
Belgium go into this match as firm favourites. With the depth in their squad and their current run of form, the Belgium boys will be hungry for their first competitive match in a major tournament in over a decade. Algeria's lack of experience will be manifest and the world-class Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard will be looking to get on the score sheet. So as Belgium emerge as one of the most exciting teams in the World Cup competition, a royal drubbing of Algeria will show that maybe they aren't dark horses after all.
Prediction: Belgium 3-0 Algeria
Daniel Tannenbaum founded Belgiumtowineuro2016.com - a team dedicated to the Belgium World Cup team and their campaign for Euro 2016
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