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World Cup

Belgium out to conquer pressure and take success

The Red Devils are the main outsiders to win the World Cup and although they have a host of fantastic players, the question mark remains over how they will cope with the pressure.

The hype surrounding the Belgian national team ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup has been near nauseating. The Red Devils are everyone's "dark-horse" and considering the Belgians boast some of the most talented youngsters in Europe, it's perhaps not as surprising as it may first seem.

Potential has now become a matter of expectation. Belgium expects Marc Wilmots' side to compete in Brazil in a group including South Korea, Algeria and Russia. The neutrals are equally expectant. Nevertheless, a mixture of free-flowing football, entertainment and the need to enthrall the millions around the world is quite the task.

Wilmots is the perfect fit for a group of young, high-energy professionals. The man dubbed the "fighting pig" will take little mischief in the dressing room and while there will be a strong level of discipline, his man-management skills will be put to the test in maintaining focus and confidence levels.

In any case, he's proven to be a shrewd replacement to Georges Leekens who resigned in 2012. Many point to the 4-2 win over the Netherlands as the moment when the relationship between Wilmots and his players blossomed.

That was enough to inspire the Belgian Football Association to hand him a new four-year-deal in April.

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots masterminded qualifcation to the World Cup

The weight of expectation is an unwelcomed burden on a group of young footballers at the biggest tournament in world football - but Wilmots, highlighting another impressive characteristic in his coaching style, is prepared for mistakes.

"The group is very hungry, that's kind of my fear, that they want to go too much and too hard - if you want to do well, you make mistakes," he explained in April. "At this level, they are inexperienced."

After the 5-1 warm-up win over Luxembourg this week, Wilmots was honest in his assessment of the game. "In the first-half, it wasn't good enough," he said. The coach also calmed the talk of being fifth favorites by saying there's still weeks of preparation remaining.

There is another potential facet to the pressure of Belgium delivering at the tournament. The team is often lauded for representing a unified Belgium, something many in the north and south alike would rather see divided. But Wilmots' squad incorporates players from the Flemish-speaking north, the French-speaking south, and others with roots even further afield.

It adds extra pressure to represent Belgium's collective identity at a social level. While the intentions are positive, Wilmots' side might still take to the field thinking they could let the country down in more ways than one with a poor performance.

Belgian team

Belgium progressed from a qualfiying group with Croatia, Serbia, Wales and Scotland

One of the key reasons for Belgium's quick development has been the number of foreign-trained international players. The likes of Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Thomas Vermaelen were coached at Ajax, Kevin Mirallas and Eden Hazard at Lille, and RC Genk's academy nurtured Thibaut Courtois and Kevin de Bruyne.

"We've got a good generation of players, many of whom ply their trade abroad and are playing regularly in international competitions," said Bayern Munich's Daniel Van Buyten, also in the squad.

"That's made us a lot stronger. All the young players are suddenly playing abroad. They all used to play in Belgium. They were still good players, but only as good as the Belgian league."

The Red Devils are benefiting from a, perhaps, unprecedented unified emergence of international players. The Belgians have found life difficult in past World Cup qualifiers, missing out in both 2006 and 2010. Their last qualification was in 2002 when they reached the Round of 16.

Ever in the shadows of neighboring Netherlands when it comes to producing world class talent and embodying a football identity, Belgium has its chance to punch above their weight in Brazil.

But what they have achieved so far may prove to be a bigger problem than their World Cup opponents. "It's all about what happens in the moment," said Wilmots, and there's no denying Belgium will want to seize on it when it arrives.