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World Cup Fantasy Preview: Belgium

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While they weren't quite ready to take part in the Euro 2012 competition, two years on Belgium look like major contenders for best squad heading into the 2014 World Cup. Can they realize their potential in Brazil?

Very nearly the complete Belgium starting 11. Condolences to a certain Mr. Benteke.
Very nearly the complete Belgium starting 11. Condolences to a certain Mr. Benteke.
Bryn Lennon

We've become more and more familiar with the majority of the names in Head Coach Marc Wilmots' 23-man squad, with an impressive 11 players currently making their club living in the Premier League, and that's not even including players loaned elsewhere. In a relatively easy Group H with Algeria, Russia and South Korea, Belgium will be strong favorites to lead the group into the round of 16. Here's the final group who made the plane to Brazil:

Goalkeepers

Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid, on loan from Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Sammy Bossut (Zulte Waregem)

Defenders

Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid), Laurent Ciman (Standard Liege), Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit St Petersburg), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Daniel van Buyten (Bayern Munich), Anthony Vanden Borre (Anderlecht), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham)

Midfielders

Nacer Chadli, Mousa Dembele (both Tottenham), Steven Defour (Porto), Kevin de Bruyne (Wolfsburg), Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj (both Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Divock Origi (Lille), Axel Witsel (Zenit St Petersburg)

Forwards

Romelu Lukaku (Everton, on loan from Chelsea), Dries Mertens (Napoli)

Before we get to the player recommendations, it's worth noting that Wilmots has seemingly done us a favor with assigning squad numbers in the traditional format, from 1-23. Judging by the squad numbers, the preferred starting lineup for Belgium would be the follwing:

Courtois

Alderweireld, Kompany, Vertonghen, Vermaelen

Witsel, De Bruyne

Mirallas, Fellaini, Hazard

Lukaku

If that's not a team capable of winning the World Cup, I don't know what is! With the preferred starters presumably set above, selecting the best of the bunch becomes a bit easier, and yet a bit more difficult at the same time. I don't know how these managers are able to cut their squads down to 23.

Fantasy Players To Watch

Thibaut Courtois - The on-loan Chelsea youngster led his Atletico Madrid side to a title in La Liga and a visit to the Champions League final. Only a keeper of Petr Cech's quality can keep the keeper from the starting lineup, and he'll be the favorite over another Premier League starter in Liverpool's Simon Mignolet. The defense in front of him should help increase the chances for clean sheets.

Vincent Kompany - In a star-studded defense, there's one clear choice and that's the Red Devils' (ha!) captain and reigning Premier League champion defender Kompany. An inspirational leader and easily among the best center backs in the world on his day, the 28 year-old will be a rock in the heart of the defense, and will also be a target on set pieces with his aerial prowess.

Kevin De Bruyne - After a promising pre-season with Chelsea, many of us were hoping for a full season in England for the young box-to-box midfielder, but he wasn't in Jose Mourinho's plans and was sold to Wolfsburg in January, where he provided 3 goals and 6 assists in 16 appearances. Depending on the tactics Wilmots decides on from match to match, De Bruyne could swap places with Fellaini to take up the attacking midfield role.

Kevin Mirallas - When he's been healthy, Mirallas has been one of the Premier League's best players since his arrival in 2012 from Olympiakos. He hasn't replicated the 20-goal haul he had in his final season in Greece, but his pace, dribbling abilities and powerful shot combine to make a stellar wide player. A season-long partnership with Lukaku at Everton should help the winger understand the spaces the big striker will vacate and which he will run into, so goals and assists could both be on the cards.

Marouane Fellaini - An abysmal debut season for the other Red Devils has probably tainted the view of the big man for many managers, but when he's been deployed in a system that suits him, Fellaini has been a powerhouse. His size and strength in the air will make him the primary target from set pieces, and he could be used in the hole behind Lukaku, a position he thrived in when David Moyes was still a highly respected manager at Everton. Don't sleep on this pick if he comes in reasonably priced. He could just be a dark-horse fantasy star.

Eden Hazard - Chelsea seem to have built quite a collection of Belgian stars over the past couple years, but none who shine as brightly as Eden Hazard. After a breakout season (if it can be called that for a player already on the fringes of the "world class" discussion), the winger can stake a claim on the title of "Belgium's Best Player." With incredible pace, vision, technique, trickery, and finishing in his locker, Hazard will be primed to make an impact this tournament.

Romelu Lukaku - The biggest fantasy troll of all will be the target man at the head of Belgium's attack force after the unfortunate injury to Christian Benteke ruled him out of the tournament. We all know Lukaku's potential to be a Drogba-esque powerhouse with pace and great footwork to add to his goalscoring talent, but many of us have also been burned one time too many by his tendency to go missing when it matters most. The 21 year-old has the potential to be the tournament's top scorer or its biggest disappointment, so it'll be a tough decision to make, but at least in the group stage he looks a worthwhile investment.