It's a month to go until the release of The Adventures of Tintin, Steven Spielberg's adaptation of three books by Belgian author Hergé. I'll post on Tintin soon but I thought I'd celebrate the film hitting cinemas with weekly posts on Belgium, starting with football.
The national side boasts a number of players we see week in, week out in England, many of them in the Premiership: goalkeeper Simon Mignolet (Sunderland), defenders Vincent Kompany (Man City) and Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), midfielder Marrouane Fellaini (Everton), Moussa Dembélé (Fulham), and Chelsea's 18-year-old striker Romelu Lukaku. Other internationals include Bolton's Dedryck Boyata (Bolton) and Ritchie de Laet, on loan from Man United to Norwich, while Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne are regularly linked to Premier League clubs.
With such a wealth of familiar talent available you'd be forgiven for thinking the national team might rival 1986's World Cup semi-finalists. However, drawn in the same group as Germany for the Euro 2012 qualifiers, Belgium's chances on making next summer's tournament always depended on making the second-place play-offs. A tight defeat followed by a draw to Turkey have left Belgium rueing what may prove to be a fatal draw away to Azerbaijan recently. Even if Turkey lose to Germany on 7 October, a win for Belgium the same night against group whipping-boys Kazakhstan may not be enough as the Turks' final game is against Azerbaijan.
Nor do Belgium's chances of qualifying for World Cup 2014 look more positive, unfortunately, drawn in the same group against Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and - home fans - Scotland and Wales. Their youthful team, however, did fare better at 2008's Olympics. A run of good results would lift the Red Devil's world ranking and put them in a stronger position qualifying for future competitions.
UPDATE In the event, Belgium did lose their final game away to Germany 3-1 (the single goal from Fellaini), while Turkey scraped a 1-0 home victory against Azerbaijan to go through to the Euro 2012 play-offs.