North African side hope to rain on young Belgian dark horses' parade
Richly talented Belgium squad are blessed with players such as Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, but Algerians hope to upset the apple cart
Agence France-Presse in Belo Horizonte
Belgium's vibrant young team are preparing to launch their campaign against Algeria today with competition hotting up on the training pitch ahead of the group H clash.
Seen as dark horses to lift the trophy, the richly talented squad are blessed with players such as Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard, powerful striker Romelu Lukaku and Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany.
Belgium have not appeared at a major international championships since the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, but they impressed in qualifying and will fancy their chances of matching their semi-final showing in Mexico in 1986.
The sole survivor from their 2002 campaign is veteran defender Daniel van Buyten, who said there were some feisty tackles flying in during the team's training sessions in the build-up to their match in Belo Horizonte.
"We usually train lightly before important matches, so players hit their peak at the right time," said the Bayern Munich player.
"But the duels on the training pitch have become more full-blooded. Every player should be ready."
Coach Marc Wilmots can also call on young Manchester United sensation Adnan Januzaj and his club teammate Marouane Fellaini as well as Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, outstanding while on loan at Atletico Madrid last season.
Lukaku, who only returned to training on Wednesday after suffering an ankle injury in a bruising friendly with Tunisia, will spearhead an attack missing injured Aston Villa forward Christian Benteke.
Belgium, also grouped with Russia and South Korea, are expected to qualify for the knockout rounds with ease, but Manchester City captain Kompany urged caution over their chances of unseating the superpowers.
"We have a young squad and it's their first major tournament," he said. "It's a still too early to dream of the summit. For overall victory, it's better waiting until 2016 and the Euros in France."
Despite their impressive resources, Belgium will come up against a side looking to cause an upset of their own to go alongside their shock win over eventual finalists West Germany in 1982.
Key players for the north African side include defender Madjid Bougherra, midfielders Sofiane Feghouli and Medhi Lacen, and forward Islam Slimani.
"We have a young group which has talent, but is lacking a bit of maturity," said assistant coach Nourredine Kourichi.