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Dance with the Devils

Chocolate, fries, waffles, beer, cyclist Eddy Merckx, festival Tomorrowland, Radja Nainggolan, writer JonAS (ahem)... Behold Belgium's finest export products. Ow, and its national team, the Red Devils, who qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 2002.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos

The Red Devils have qualified for Brazil 2014 after an extraordinary/incredible/unbelievable/*insert any other positive adjectives here* run. 10 games, 8 wins, 2 draws. Here are the final standings of group A:

1 Vlag van België Belgium 10 8 2 0 18 4 +14 26
2 Vlag van Kroatië Croatia 10 5 2 3 12 9 +3 17
3 Vlag van Servië Serbia 10 4 2 4 18 11 +7 14
4 Vlag van Schotland Scotland 10 3 2 5 8 12 -4 11
5 Vlag van Wales Wales 10 3 1 6 9 20 -11 10
6 Vlag van Macedonië Macedonia 10 2 1 7 7 16 -9 7

Belgium really was the 'Juventus' of its group, maybe even the entire qualification round. Dominant, digging up wins left and right. All this with a rather young group (I think their average age is the third youngest of all teams in Brazil). But young doesn't necessarily mean inexperienced. No sir. Belgium boosts players with international fame like Hazard, Kompany, Courtois, Witsel and Vertonghen. During the qualifiers, they exchanged good games (Croatia, Scotland) with mediocre ones (Macedonia twice) but their overall performance in group A was stellar. Thanks to the good results, the Red Devils even parked their car in the top 10 of the official FIFA ranking for a while (that's why they were in pot 1 for the WC draw).

Unfortunately, we won't see Radja in Brazil as he only got in the spotlights after his move to Roma in January. The NT-coach chose to stick with almost the same group of players who played the qualifiers (bar some exceptions like Origi from Lille and Januzaj from ManU). Places in midfield are few and far between, as I've told in a previous post about Radja's omission from the WC, with names like Witsel, Dembele, Chadli, De Bruyne and Defour. But that doesn't mean Roma's Chiesa has to ignore this team. After all, we were/are linked with quite a lot of Belgians these days like Vertonghen, Dembele, Vermaelen and the latest suprise of the chef (that's Sabatini), Ferreira-Carrasco from Monaco.

This side deserves its place in Brazil, no doubts about that. It can boosts the names, they have a down-to-earth coach, a great entourage, chemistry galore and my country right now is going nuts for the first match against Algeria. Support won't be the problem, pressure could be one. Although many of them play in big leagues, the World Cup is something else. One bad game and you're out of the competition. One bad half and you'll certainly end up on the bench the next game. One bad pass and millions of people have seen it. One major howler and you will disappoint an entire nation. No room for mistakes. This tournament separates the boys from men.

Belgium's last memory of a World Cup match ain't exactly a happy one. They lost 0-2 against Brazil after the group stage (goals from Rivaldo and Ronaldo, the fat not so muscled one) but totally undeserved. Marc Wilmots (the current NT-coach) was our attacker that time and got a goal disallowed by Jamaican ref Prendergast. Wilmots' header was cancelled because he 'pushed' Brazilian CB Roque Junior. Replays suggest it was a fair duel and no foul whatsoever. To make it extra painful: that happened when the score was still 0-0, in the 35th minute. The name Peter Prendergast still leaves a sour taste in the mouth of many people here. And rightfully so.

So yes, we Belgians partially want revenge for that foul and the 12-year-abscence from the big stage (we missed the EC in 2004, 2008 and 2012 as well as the WC 2006 and 2010). But we also want to show the world a tiny country like Belgium can be big in certain aspects. Fries, chocolate, beer,... Those are the things we are most famous about. Football has disappeared from that list, due to a variety of reasons. Belgian teams didn't fare well in Europe (see: Anderlecht, Genk, Standard in the Champions League) and ironically, not that long ago, our NT was a real mess and disaster. Losing to Armenia (2-1) or Morocco (1-4) wasn't a shame, it was common news back then.

Most people will say Belgium-Netherlands in August 2012 was the first real step to stardom, right before the qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014 kicked off. Three goals in the final quarter turned a seemingly 1-2 loss into a 4-2 win. The rest as they say, is history. Belgium is ready to write its very own history, starting on Tuesday against Algeria. Then they face Russia and ultimately South-Korea. Doable. I'm not the guy to make bold predictions here, I say: let the feet do the talking. But Chiesa should definitely keep an eye on this team, they might go far.

There were times when people were laughing with the Devils, they are over. Now, it's time to dance with the Devils.