Football hipsters will be refilling their tankards with a favourite craft ale, neatly combing their beard and nervously smoothing down their lucky Keegan-era Hamburger SV shirt this afternoon, as the most extravagantly hyped dark horse team in World Cup history step into the fray. Belgium are the latest in a long line of international teams to be able to declare a golden generation of players, boasting European stars like Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard all looking to make a name for themselves on the global stage.
However, the Red Devils are by no means reliant on a handful of superstar players. The squad boasts impressive strength in depth and significant levels of international experience, although only Bayern Munich’s veteran defender Daniel Van Buyten can boast any previous at the World Cup Finals. That was in Japan and Korea in 2002, Belgium’s last major senior international tournament. The wilderness period has been longer than perhaps the Belgians are used to, but they cruised through their qualifying group for 2014, adding weight to the sneaking feeling that all of the factors have aligned at the exact right time for Marc Wilmots’ side.
Their opponents, however, are no pushovers. Algeria are at their second successive World Cup Finals, comfortably winning CAF Group G ahead of Mali and are just outside the top 20 in the FIFA rankings – the highest rated of the five African teams who made it to Brazil. Their experience from their campaign in South Africa will no doubt help solidify what is already a tidy and efficient squad of players. Their star man is the Sporting CP centre forward Islam Slimani, a talented and consistent goalscorer who will be looking to address a possible area of weakness for the Algerian side. It’s a side that defends well as a unit, moves the ball well and has plenty of pace. Belgium go into the game as favourites but there’s every chance that they will have to live up to their pre-tournament billing to come away from Belo Horizonte this afternoon with a result.
The Twohundredpercent punditry panel, who have supped a fair few craft ales and combed a few bears in their time, for this game – positively gibbering with anticipation no doubt – are Jenni Silver and Ted “Flanders” Carter.
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