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Belgium ready for battle

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

BRUSSELS - A few years ago the notion of Belgium as fifth favourites to win a World Cup ahead of France, Italy and England would have seemed ludicrous even to the country's most ardent supporters.

Just making the World Cup finals proved beyond the Red Devils in 2006 and 2010, their last appearance coming back in 2002 when they lost to eventual winners Brazil in the last 16.

Yet here they are, bags packed for Brazil with 'dark horses' firmly stamped on their passports and only the hosts, Argentina, Germany and Spain above them in the betting.

Coach Marc Wilmots' talented squad sailed through their qualifying group unbeaten, barely putting a foot wrong against Croatia, Serbia and Scotland.

They sealed their berth to Brazil with a game to spare in Zagreb, Romelu Lukaku's double doing the damage. They start in Group H against Algeria, Russia and South Korea.

Star players like Chelsea's Eden Hazard, Wolfsburg's Kevin de Bruyne, Lukaku (loaned by Chelsea to Everton), Manchester City's Vincent Kompany and Lukaku's Everton teammate Kevin Mirallas ply their trade in Europe's main leagues.

And that presence beyond Belgium's borders according to veteran central defender Daniel van Buyten is one of the reasons for Belgium's soccer renaissance.

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