MOGI DAS CRUZES, Brazil — If Belgium has a reputation for self-indulgence because of its love of chocolate and beer, it is time to look at its World Cup squad and admire discipline, stamina and determination.
So far, this has been a hard team to appreciate despite its perfect group record ahead of Tuesday’s clash with the United States.
Tough defense: Belgium didn’t concede a single goal in open play during the group stage. Talk about a hermetic seal. It has Thibaut Courtois, at 22, already one of the top goalkeepers around. He anchored Atletico Madrid to the Spanish league title and also the Champions League final. Playing ahead of him is Vincent Kompany, who led Manchester City to two of the last three Premier League titles. And amazingly at 36, Daniel Van Buyten is still one of the standout defenders at the World Cup.
“Kampfschwein” coach: If you are looking for fighting spirit, coach Marc Wilmots fits the bill. Such was the toughness of his attitude and the challenges he made as a player with Schalke in the Bundesliga, the working class fan base immediately took a liking to him and called him Kampfschwein — which translates as fighting boar.
Eden Hazard: The playmaker has huge expectations to live up to. At 23, he is already among a handful of European players with global appeal. He is now the creative genius at Chelsea and is seeking to emulate that for Belgium at the World Cup.
Spoilt for strikers? Don’t be fooled by the measly four goals from three games, Belgium does have its share of good strikers. Christian Benteke was supposed to be the first choice for Wilmots, but the Aston Villa striker ruptured his Achilles tendon in April. No worries. There’s also Romelu Lukaku, the Everton forward. Despite a sterling preparation campaign and key goals in qualifying, he has been a bitter disappointment so far in Brazil.
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