Tintin, waffles, and over-priced chocolate. If you were to traverse the high streets and market squares of Britain, asking the wandering punters to sum up Belgium in three words, the odds are that you'd end up with something largely similar. Yet, in the coming months and years, our Flemish counterparts from across the Channel may well have another fame to claim. For so long derided as an under-performing footballing nation - hardly fair considering this is a country with a population barely a quarter that of England - Belgium can look towards Brazil 2014 as a genuine opportunity to impose themselves on the global sporting platform.
Make no mistake, they remain genuine dark horses. Walk into some bookies today £10 today, and you could be walking out that same establishment in July with £170 in your back pocket if Belgium can do the seemingly impossible. It betting terms, it seems foolish to look past the 'Big Four', who seem destined to scrap between themselves for the grand prize in Rio. In Argentina, Brazil, Spain and Germany, the Belgians will be coming up against a powerful and proven quartet of footballing superpowers. From the 80,000 baying Brazilians in the Maracana, to the brutal efficiency of an experienced German squad, or the 'tiki-taka' dynasty of modern Spanish football; plucky Belgium will have to scale Everest many times over in order to lift the World Cup.
Nor are the omens especially auspicious. Not since a gold medal at the Olympic Games in 1920, in itself a default victory after the Czechoslovakian players marched off the pitch in the fortieth minute, have Belgium tasted international footballing success. The monkey on the back seems even more weighty and restrictive than that which has hung over England's lambasted Golden Generation.
If history presents a major obstacle, Belgium's current crop of talented players most certainly do not. A noticeably young and flamboyant team, the Belgians also possess guile and experience that belies their fresh-faced confidence. The squad that is likely to go to Brazil in a few months time reads somewhat like a who's who of top European performers over the last two or three years. The quality seems endless: Courtois, Mignolet, Kompany, Vertonghen, Vermaelen, Fellaini, Mertens, Hazard, Benteke, Lukaku, Dembele, Mirallas, Witsel; it goes on and on. Add in the potential inclusion of Manchester United's captivating starlet Adnan Januzaj, who has yet to decide on which country he is going to pledge allegiance to, and Belgium emerge as a major player in the 2014 World Cup.
Cynics will say, and with hard-headed reason, that the superior squads of Spain and Germany, and the home advantage of the South American nations, mean that a Belgian victory in Brazil is almost impossible. Yet we should dare to dream. After a 24-year absence from the competition, Greece pulled off one of the greatest shocks in recent international football to lift the European Championship Trophy in 2004. The bookmakers will tell you that the World Cup will be lifted in the hands of Iker Casillas, Phillip Lahm, Thiago Silva or Javier Mascherano. Yet when it comes to June 2014, supporters of every nation will tune into their television sets with that glimmer of hope, however slim. In Belgium, in the Netherlands, and yes - even in England, there is no reason why this blind faith should not be aired.
For odds are just that, odds. If the underdogs and the dark horses never triumphed, there would be no point in them at all.
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