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World Cup 2014 Expert Interview: Discussing everyone’s dark horses, Belgium

As part of our World Cup coverage, we have interviewed journalists, correspondents, experts & writers representing each of the 32 countries to give you, the readers, a better understanding of the 32 nations participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Here are the list of interviewees.

Belgium World Cup Interview

For this interview, focusing on Belgium, we spoke to Bjorn de Cock, co-founder and Belgian editor of Benefoot. Follow him on Twitter @TheBelgPatriot 

Months before the summer spectacle in Brazil, the Belgian national team was being touted as the dark-horses for the tournament; so much so that now everyone is touting them as dark-horses, defeating the purpose of the term. So now with pressure on the backs of these supposed dark-horses, how does Marc Wilmots avoid complacency in the squad?

This is one of Marc Wilmots’ strongest points. He’s certainly not the best tactical coach but he’s such a great people manager and almost a father figure for most of his players. He was himself always a player who had to work hard to get what he wanted. He wasn’t gifted with Eden Hazard’s technique or Kevin De Bruyne’s crossing passes. No, Marc Wilmots was a true warrior who never gave up. He will keep his players’ feet on the ground and will avoid complacency by being straight forward to them. In almost every interview he tries to counter ever journalist by saying that Belgium haven’t achieved anything yet. Not to put himself or Belgium in the underdog position but to make his players aware that they still have to prove how good they are at the World Cup in Brasil. So far, they’ve only qualified for the World Cup, that’s it.

With the loss of Christian Benteke, the hopes of the nation in a centre-forward’s role lie on 21-yr-old Romelu Lukaku. How much of a loss is the Villa man and can such a young player manage to carry the team forward?

Christian Benteke’s injury is a big loss for Marc Wilmots. He’s a big fan of the attacker of Aston Villa and likes to have a strong striker who can keep the ball and possession so his creative midfielders can infiltrate and do their thing. He will have to change his tactics with Lukaku up in front. It’s going to be a big test for Marc Wilmots. We’ll finally see how good he knows the game and if he’s ready for a big coaching career.

Romelu Lukaku had an excellent season with Everton so he will have a lot of confidence. He will maybe not be the man who will carry his team forward but he could definitely be important for Belgium like he was in the match against Croatia. Lukaku learned a lot the last two years in the Premier League.

There are plenty of creative heads running through the Belgian squad but who will Wilmots’ men mainly look to for creativity? How does the coach incorporate these creative heads into the starting XI?

Marc Wilmots’ creative brains on the pitch are Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. The latter was his best man in the qualifications. I think that Wilmots hopes that Eden Hazard has kept everything for the World Cup in Brasil. Kevin De Bruyne has some particular tasks from Wilmots, Eden Hazard has more freedom to do what he wants. Wilmots once said that Hazard only needs a few seconds to finish a game. He’s doing it for Chelsea and Wilmots hopes he will also do it for Belgium.

Marc Wilmots’ biggest joker at the World Cup will definitely be Dries Mertens of Napoli. The winger is the perfect player to bring in the last twenty minutes when the match is locked. Now he also added Adnan Januzaj to the Belgium squad so he has plenty of options. We also have Mirallas.

Is the Belgian team possibily guilty of being too attacking & attractive, with less defensive cover from the midfielders?

I wouldn’t say that Belgium have less defensive cover, at the moment. The biggest problem for Marc Wilmots would be when Zenit’s Axel Witsel is out injured. He’s a defensive line on his own in front of Marc Wilmots’ defence. Witsel is the man who needs to recover the balls and who needs to keep possession during difficult moments in a game.

Second, Marc Wilmots has his defenders concerned with defending first. He doesn’t like it when his backs attack too much. Toby Alderweireld knows his task and he will only defend. Jan Vertonghen likes to rush from time to time but Wilmots will certainly ask him to pick his moments.

Vincent Kompany is irreplaceable, that’s clear. Belgium can’t afford to lose their captain with an injury. Daniel Van Buyten has a lot of experience but is already 36. Thomas Vermaelen hasn’t played a lot of matches this season. Jan Vertonghen has to play left back and Nicolas Lombaerts is a great defender but won’t have the same impact like Kompany has.

The Belgium squad is filled with fairly young players, with Van Buyten the only player who has experienced a major competition way back in 2002. Will that prove to be a factor? Or is the raw talent at their disposal more than a mere advantage?

Experience is always important. At the other hand, most of our players all play in the biggest leagues of the world so they know how to cope with critical or difficult moments. Daniel Van Buyten will guide, together with Kompany and Wilmots, his team off the pitch and will try to keep them calm when necessary.

2014 FIFA World Cup Group H

We at Outside of the Boot track the progress of youngsters under our Talent Radar feature. We’ve already spoken about Lukaku, but do you see Januzaj or Origi having any impact on the side? Were you surprised by Belgian Young Player of the Year, Thorgan Hazard’s exclusion?

Divock Origi is a very talented attacker. He’s certainly not the same kind of attacker like Benteke is. Origi is a dribbling attacker who is two-footed. He’s not a target man like Benteke is. But he certainly has other qualities and I’m sure we’ll hear more from him in the future. He just has to enjoy this beautiful moment in his career and learn.

Adnan Januzaj is a different story. I personally think that Marc Wilmots will give him some playing time at the World Cup. I know Januzaj from Anderlecht’s youth teams and he’s that kind of player that doesn’t get affected by stress. He could enter the pitch in the last ten minutes against Russia when it’s 0-0 and score a goal after only one touch.

Thorgan Hazard has a great second consecutive season with Zulte Waregem. But there we have it, Zulte Waregem. What they do is quite remarkeable but you can’t compare it with what Januzaj is doing with Manchester United, Origi with Lille and Dries Mertens with Napoli for example. Thorgan Hazard has to move to a bigger competition. His time will come, I’m sure about that.

Belgium have been blessed with a not-so-complicated group. Progression to the knock-out round is a must but realistically how far do you see the side going? What are expectations like among supporters?

Everything depends of course where they will finish in their group. If they finish first a lot is possible. If they finish second they’ll probably have to play against Germany in the next round and then I think it’s game over for Belgium. We have a great team but countries like Spain and Germany are still having a stronger and more experienced side. But we can make it very difficult for every country and that’s already a start. I think Belgium should focus on EURO 2016 and just try to enjoy this World Cup.

The fans are hoping that Belgium have a chance of winning the World Cup but I’m afraid that a lot of them will be dissapointed then. But as a fan you have to believe in it of course. And hopefully I’m wrong.

Read all our World Cup Interviews here, and all other WC2014 related content here.

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