There may never be another Belgian World Cup team this loaded with star power — or lacking in confidence — with team captain Eden Hazard capturing both qualities going into Russia 2018.
“We’ll go there to try to win the World Cup,” the 27-year-old Chelsea midfielder boldly told CNN Sport in an exclusive interview. “To go and give 100%, that’s what we have to do.
“In football you never know, but I feel that we have a good team, good players,” added the 2015 PFA Player of the Year. “We have experience now on the team.
“A lot of players they are playing in England, so we (have known) each other (for) four or five years.”
Although Belgium appears unlikely to have injured Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany ready for its opening match against Panama on June 18, the team will still field exceptional players on every line.
From goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), to midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), to striker Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United) — and of course Hazard himself — Belgium is, on paper, one of the most talented teams in the tournament.
A hazardous road ahead
Should Belgium escape its group, which also features Tunisia and England, it will like its chances to reach the World Cup semifinal for the first time since Mexico 1986.
Hazard is, however, well aware of the pitfalls that can trip talented sides in big tournaments.
After an opening loss to Italy, The Red Devils were rolling in Euro 2016, disposing of Ireland, Sweden and Hungary by a combined score of 8-0.
But they were stunned in the quarterfinals by an inspired Welsh side, losing 3-1.
The memories of that loss still linger with Belgium’s captain. “It’s not easy because all of the teams, they want to win,” Hazard said. “You give everything and you (lose); that’s football.”
Complementing Hazard and the other the A-listers in Russia will be an experienced mix of veterans, like defender Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur) and midfielder Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), along with young talent like Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea) and Hazard’s younger brother Thorgan (Borussia Monchengladbach).
Controversially left out of Roberto Martinez’s squad, however, is combative Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan, who knocked in two goals in the Champions League semifinal second leg against Liverpool.
The 30-year-old firebrand, who admits to smoking cigarettes on his off days, reportedly has a difficult relationship with Martinez.
“It was clear that he was looking for a reason not to pick me,” he said on Belgian TV channel VIER.
If World Cup friendlies are anything to go by, Belgium is playing distraction-free under Martinez.
The team beat Egypt 3-0 last week, with goals from Lukaku, Eden Hazard, and Fellaini, and drew 0-0 with a strong Portuguese side on June 2.
Belgium faces Costa Rica for a final friendly tuneup in Brussels Monday night.
“I think now the target is to go there and to try to reach the final,” Hazard said. “You never know what can happen.
“We don’t want to have regrets, we want to go and we want to give everything.”