The hipsters' choice. Belgium has emerged from the shadows of traditionally more glamorous neighbor Netherlands and is now the fifth favorite to win the World Cup in Brazil next summer. Along with the hip has come the hype - but will the Belgian waffle be backed up by success and swagger in 2014?
Much like Borussia Dortmund at the club level, it has become cool and hip to like Belgium. Years ago, most soccer fans would have struggled to name a single footballer from the western European nation. In fact, for a time, perhaps the country's most famous footballer was a man who gained recognition when his career was already over: revolutionary rule-changer Jean-Marc Bosman. Now, though, many of the continent's top teams proudly boast a Belgian on their books.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, owned by Chelsea but on loan at Atletico Madrid for a third successive season, is considered to be among the world's finest shot-stoppers; Manchester City's Vincent Kompany is one the greatest center backs around; Jan Vertonghen's reputation as a fine defender is growing at Tottenham and saw him scouted as a possible signing by Barcelona in the summer; Romelu Lukaku's fantastic form at Everton has made Jose Mourinho look foolish for allowing the striker to leave Stamford Bridge on loan this season; Eden Hazard was short-listed for the PFA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards after his debut season in the Premier League with the Blues; Daniel Van Buyten, at 35, is entering his seventh campaign at Bayern Munich; Aston Villa's Christian Benteke is one of the finest young forwards around; midfielder Marouane Fellaini was Manchester United's big summer signing; and Thomas Vermaelen is the captain of Arsenal.