With many tipping Marc Wilmots' men as potential dark horses for this year's World Cup, Al Hain-Cole has taken a look at what we can expect from Les Diables Rouges in BrazilBelgium return to the world stage after a 12-year absence as most people’s favourite "dark horses", albeit having been well gambled over the last year and with bet365 now offering odds of a mere 18/1 (19.00) on them going all the way for the first time in their history, they are actually within the top teams in the betting.
Marc Wilmots’ men made a potentially tricky qualification group look easy to book their place in Brazil, beating the likes of Croatia, Serbia, Wales and Scotland to top spot without suffering a single defeat.
Having racked up more points then every other European side bar Germany and the Netherlands, Les Diables Rouges are available at 6/1 (7.00) to translate this form to the main event by going further than all of their continental rivals.
There will be plenty of familiar faces on display for fans of the Premier League, with 13 of Wilmots’ squad plying their trade in England. Eden Hazard is the undoubted jewel in the crown, while Adnan Januzaj’s late decision to commit his future to Belgium sees him make the plane despite never featuring for the country at any level.
With Russia, South Korea and Algeria awaiting them in Group H, the Belgians are clear 1/6 (1.17) favourites to qualify for the knockout stages, and available at just 4/6 (1.67) to finish in first place. Wilmots scored the winner against Russia in a 3-2 victory at the 2002 World Cup, while his side have drawn one and lost one in two previous tournament meetings against South Korea. They have never faced Algeria in a competitive fixture.
Few teams head to Brazil with a stronger spine this summer, with Belgium boasting quality in every area. From a goal tended by one of the game’s most accomplished young goalkeepers in Thibaut Courtois and protected by the defensive rock that is Vincent Kompany, to an attack led by Romelu Lukaku with support from Kevin Mirallas, Kevin De Bruyne and the silky Hazard, this team can give anyone a run for their money.
However, as either Germany or Portugal most likely await in the last 16, odds of 11/10 (2.10) seem rather short on them reaching the quarter-finals and taking on probable opponents Argentina. From there, they are on offer at 3/1 (4.00) to reach the semis and 7/1 (8.00) to get to the final.
Christian Benteke’s absence through injury leaves Lukaku and uncapped Lille youngster Divock Origi 12/1 (13.00) as the only real strikers at Wilmots’ disposal, with the former clear 6/5 (2.20) favourite to finish as his country’s top scorer in the tournament.
While the defence conceded just four times in qualifying, nobody scored more than two goals in an attack that hit just 18 in 10 fixtures. Hazard 6/1 (7.00) and Mirallas 8/1 (9.00) were among those to strike twice and will need to pick up the goal-scoring slack even more with Benteke unavailable.
Wilmots’ preferred 4-5-1 formation relies on a strong defensive foundation and a lone striker supported by three creative attacking midfielders. While the manager’s faith in youth was rewarded with a strong qualifying campaign, a lack of tournament experience could prove his side’s downfall should they come up against Germany or Portugal in the last 16, meaning odds of 11/8 (2.38) seem reasonable on them falling at the first hurdle in the knockout stages.
Elimination at the quarter-finals 3/1 (4.00) would realistically represent a respectable performance for the dark horses, while defeat in either the semis 13/2 (7.50) or final 12/1 (13.00) would provide real hope for the future.
|Belgium's World Cup Squad - 18/1 with bet365|
|Thibaut Courtois||Toby Alderweireld||Axel Witsel||Romelu Lukaku|
|Simon Mignolet||Anthony Vanden Borre||Steven Defour||Divock Origi|
|Silvio Proto||Laurent Ciman||Marouane Fellaini||Eden Hazard|
|Koen Casteels||Vincent Kompany||Moussa Dembele||Dries Mertens|
|Daniel Van Buyten||Nacer Chadli||Kevin Mirallas|
|Thomas Vermaelen||Kevin De Bruyne||Adnan Januzaj|
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Al Hain-Cole is an experienced tipster and avid follower of European football. He specialises in accumulators and if you would like to read more from Al you can follow him on Twitter here.