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Kompany, Hazard, Courtois make Belgium a contender

AP - Sports
5 Belgium players to watch at the World Cup

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Chelsea's Eden Hazard arrives for a training session at their facilities in Stoke d'Abernon, near London, Monday, April 7, 2014. Paris Saint-Germain take a 3-1 lead from the first leg into their second leg Champions League quarterfinal soccer match against Chelsea on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Belgium is back in the World Cup after 12 years, and with its hottest crop of players in a generation.

With an incredible knack for timing, Belgium's best have conspired to come of age in one providential season which has seen them taking on leading roles in England and Spain, the toughest two leagues in the world.

It has even pushed national team captain Vincent Kompany to mention the unspeakable - winning the World Cup in Brazil.

''I don't think we will be able to win the World Cup on talent alone. But given some luck, a strong performance by everyone and the right team spirit ...,'' the Manchester City defender said, trailing off at the thought of Belgium winning its first major title since the 1920 Olympics.

The draw has also provided a helping hand, putting Belgium in Group H with Russia, South Korea and Algeria. Advancing from that group should pose few problems for the Belgians.

From then on, the Red Devils have a few men that could turn any game in a flash of one brilliant action.

At 21, Thibaut Courtois has used his loan stint from Chelsea to Atletico Madrid to become the best goalkeeper in Spain. If he comes face-to-face with Cristiano Ronaldo - which is possible in the second round - he won't be intimidated.

Courtois was man of the match when he won the Copa del Rey last season in a Madrid derby. And he knows the pressure of winning all too well with Atletico going for both the domestic and Champions League titles this season.

Up front, playmaker Eden Hazard is gaining in poise and confidence almost by the week, pushing Chelsea toward the top of the Premier League table and making him a prized protege of ever-demanding manager Jose Mourinho.

Calm and inspiration will not only be forthcoming from Kompany. Just about all first-team players earn their money abroad, from Russia to Portugal over to Germany and Italy. Yet, when it comes to the World Cup, just about all will be rookies.

Then again, Marc Wilmots has the experience to make up for all. He played in four World Cups and now is headed to his first as a coach.

Belgium surprised the world when it pushed right into the semifinals of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, stopped only by Diego Maradona and eventual winner Argentina. Wilmots got on board four years later as a burly, ebullient midfielder, and in four editions his team was often solid but not good enough to reach the quarterfinals.

In Belgium's last World Cup match, it was stopped by eventual champion Brazil in the round of 16 at the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan.

Now, Wilmots is bent on taking his team further.

''Everybody who has gotten past the first round of a World Cup will tell you,'' Wilmots told Le Soir newspaper, ''it is the form of the moment that will make the difference.''


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