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    Belgium

    Belgium will face the United States in a FIFA World Cup™ warm-up on 12 June, the opening day of the 2014 finals in Brazil. The friendly will be staged behind closed doors in Sao Paulo.

    "It will be a kind of training session for each side," the Belgian football federation said on Friday.

    The USA begin their World Cup campaign on 16 June against Ghana in Group G which also features Germany and Portugal.

    Belgium kick off their Group H action against Algeria on 17 June with Russia and Korea Republic lying in wait for Marc Wilmots' team.

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    Belgium include Januzaj & Origi, omit Simons

    Manchester United's Adnan Januzaj has been included in Belgium's 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ squad. The 19-year-old is yet to play for the country of his birth after only committing himself to them last month. However, coach Marc Wilmots has included the attacker as one of 12 Premier League players in an initial 24-man party.

    The others are Januzaj's United team-mate Marouane Fellaini, Manchester City's Vincent Kompany, Chelsea trio Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois - the last two have been on loan at Everton and Atletico Madrid - Tottenham Hotspur's Moussa Dembele, Nacer Chadli and Jan Vertonghen, Everton's Kevin Mirallas, Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen and Liverpool's Simon Mignolet.

    Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke has been ruled out by injury, with 19-year-old Lille striker Divock Origi called up in his place.

    Club Brugge's experienced midfielder Timmy Simons, who is approaching 100 caps, is the most notable exclusion.

    Wilmots has included Silvio Proto as a fourth goalkeeper because of injury doubts over Koen Casteels. One of the pair will be cut from the final squad.

    Belgium are in Group H along with Fabio Capello's Russia, Korea Republic and Algeria.

    Belgium squad

    Goalkeepers:
    Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Koen Casteels (Hoffenheim), Silvio Proto (Anderlecht)

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

    Midfielders:
    Axel Witsel (Zenit), Steven Defour, Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Nacer Chadli (Tottenham), Moussa Dembele (Tottenham), Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg), Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

    Forwards:
    Dries Mertens (Napoli), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea), Divock Origi (Lille)

    Standby: Sebastien Pocognoli (Hannover), Radja Nainggolan (Cagliari), Thorgan Hazard (Chelsea), Jelle Van Damme (Standard Liege), Guillaume Gillet (Anderlecht), Michy Batshuayi (Standard Liege)

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 16 May at 12:00 CET.

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    Kompany: We welcome new players

    Belgium captain Vincent Kompany is ready to welcome Manchester United youngster Adnan Januzaj into the fold for the FIFA World Cup™.

    Januzaj, 19, has been drafted straight into coach Marc Wilmots' squad for Brazil after declaring his allegiance to the country. The winger had been eligible for a number of countries, and there had even been suggestions he could attempt to qualify for England, before finally declaring for Belgium last month.

    Striker Kevin Mirallas recently said he was happy for the youngster to opt for Belgium but said it would be unfair if he was selected for the World Cup having not played in the qualifiers.

    Kompany was asked about the matter as he attended a press conference during Manchester City's post-season tour of Abu Dhabi.

    Asked if any members of the squad were unhappy, the City defender said: "Everyone is, first of all, happy to be in the selection.

    "Then ultimately it is the manager's job to make a decision and I think we are all quite happy to just leave it to the manager and trust him for the decisions he makes.

    "We have great players in the team so hopefully for the World Cup we will have a great performance as well.

    "We are just always happy to welcome new players, always."

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    Mignolet: I have not yet reached my peak

    Simon Mignolet excels in everything he does. The proud holder of a degree in Political Science, the Belgium and Liverpool keeper is one of life’s achievers, and there is no place where he has been achieving more lately than between the posts for club and country.

    “I think he's an outstanding goalkeeper who is only going to get better and better,” enthused Brendan Rodgers, his manager at Liverpool, who were indebted in no small part to the Belgian for their second place in the English Premier League.

    “He has come into a huge club and replaced a legendary figure at the club in Pepe Reina. That was always going to take a bit of time,” continued Rodgers. “But over the course of the season he has made a big contribution. Simon hasn't ever cost us a game but he has certainly gained us points.”

    Speaking to FIFA.com,the Belgian, who kept ten clean sheets for the Anfield club during the campaign, reflected on his domestic season: “It was my first year at Liverpool and the first time in my career that I’ve played for such a big club. I’m satisfied with my first season, though I’m well aware that I can still improve a lot.

    “I’m only 26 and that’s still young for a goalkeeper. I don’t really have any personal goals. I just think about team goals, and we’ve achieved one by making it to the Champions League.”

    Though Mignolet has just one trophy on his CV – a Belgian second division championship won with Sint Truiden in 2009 – his has been a rapid ascent, from his country’s second tier to the upper reaches of the English top flight in less than five years.

    “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished,” he said, taking stock of his rising fortunes. “Yes, it has come quickly, but I’ve still got a long way to go. The only thing I can do to improve is keep on working. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last five years and it’s what I’m going to carry on doing for the next five.”

    Redis the colour
    Dedication has long been a watchword for a player who has continued to further his education at the same time as pursuing his keeping career. In negotiating his transfer from Sint Truiden to Sunderland, the Belgian was not so much worried about his salary or getting his hands on a good car as finding out how he could carry on with his studies.

    Explaining why, he said: “It’s thanks to my studies that I’ve been able to perfect my knowledge of languages. I speak five of them fluently and it helps when you need to communicate with your team-mates. It’s also helped me lead a live that doesn’t revolve so much around football, though I love what I do. I love playing football and I love that feeling you get when you win.”

    Discussing his job on the pitch, he added: “My position is the same as any other. The goalkeeper is just a link in a team that has one objective, and that’s to win. The only worry you have are injuries. Luckily for me, I’ve avoided them up to now and I’ve been able to do what I do without a break.”

    Playing at Liverpool provides Mignolet with another reason for enjoying his work. As well as the mystique of the famous red shirt, the Belgian custodian has also been taken aback by the fervour that surrounds the club, even far away from its Anfield home.

    “A few days after I arrived we played in a summer tournament in Asia, and that’s when it dawned on me just how big the club was,” he explained. “We went to Australia, Thailand and Indonesia, and there was huge excitement wherever we went. The fame of Liverpool stretches far beyond Europe.”

    The world stage
    Belgium’s stature is also rising, with many people tipping them as dark horses at Brazil 2014, their first world finals appearance in 12 years. Mignolet, who has 15 caps to his name, is cautious about their chances.

    “The first objective was to qualify," he said. "It’s been a long time since that happened and we’re delighted to be making the trip to Brazil. Our next goal is to make the second round. After that, we’ll just have to wait and see. On a personal note, it’s a childhood dream come true to be taking part in an event like this.”

    “Make the most of it, Simon!” wrote his national team coach Marc Wilmots on the occasion of Mignolet’s 26th birthday back in March. “You should know that you are an excellent goalkeeper who always accepts my decisions as a true professional and who shows a great deal of respect to the team and the coaches.”

    The perfect professional, colleague and scholar: the studious Mignolet has a lot going for him.

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    Belgium coach ponders goalkeeper concern

    Belgium coach Marc Wilmots had yet to reveal his final 23-man squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ to the press on Tuesday, a day after FIFA's final 2 June deadline.

    All bar one position, that of the third-choice goalkeeper, was already known, and the media department of the Belgian Federation could not be contacted to provide confirmation.

    Koen Casteels, of German Bundesliga club Hoffenheim, was expected to be included in the squad to travel to Brazil as the third-choice 'keeper, but he is recovering from a fractured tibia and his fitness remains a concern.

    Sammy Bossut of Zulte-Waregem has been standing by to take his place.

    However, Belgian media reports say Casteels will make the squad, especially as FIFA regulations mean he could still be replaced before the World Cup begins if he does not recover fitness in time.

    The rest of the Belgiam squad will be the same as Wilmots announced ten days ago, with veteran Club Brugge midfielder Timmy Simons and Radja Nainggolan of Roma the most notable absentees, along with injured Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke.

    Belgium squad (including uncertainty in goalkeeping position):

    Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Koen Casteels (Hoffenheim) or Sammy Bossut (Zulte-Waregem)
    Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid), Anthony Vanden Borre (Anderlecht), Daniel Van Buyten (Bayern Munich), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Laurent Ciman (Standard Liège)
    Midfielders: Axel Witsel (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Steven Defour (Porto), Moussa Dembélé, Nacer Chadli (both Tottenham Hotspur), Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg)
    Forwards: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea), Divock Origi (Lille), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United)

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 5 June at 12:00 CET.

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    Belgium worries over Hazard form

    Belgian playmaker Eden Hazard's form ahead of the FIFA World Cup™ has sparked a feverish debate in his home country, where one former international has called for the Chelsea star to be dropped.

    Belgium have been tipped as a team who could upset the favourites at the World Cup, but two-tournament veteran Marc Degryse says 23-year-old Hazard looked worryingly distracted during the two warm up games before their Group H campaign starts against Algeria on 17 June. Belgian coach Marc Wilmots should have a sharp word with Hazard, despite his goal in Belgium's 2-0 win over Sweden last Sunday, said Degryse, who played with Wilmots in the national side. His criticism echoed Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho after Chelsea lost 3-1 at home to Spanish side Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.

    "He has to work harder defensively," said the 48-year-old Degryse, who scored 23 times in 63 appearances for Belgium. "Against Sweden he switched off several times, just like he did in the Champions League for Chelsea against Atletico Madrid. If that doesn't change, Wilmots will have to resolve it by dropping him."

    Hazard moved to the English Premier League in 2012 for a reported £32 million ($54 million) after inspiring Lille to the 2011 French Ligue 1 title. Degryse, who scored twice in seven appearances at the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cups, said Hazard needs a wake up call from time to time to be shaken out of complacency. "It is time for him to produce a good performance, on which he leaves his imprint. We have been waiting a long time for this. We have the right to expect this of a lad who is as talented as he is. If he doesn't feel concerned about this he has to give way to somebody else," said Degryse.

    While Wilmots has dismissed the concerns of Degryse and others, saying that he expected Hazard to be on top form for Saturday's friendly with Tunisia, he did add that he would drop the player if he does not perform. "He (Hazard) has my full support," said Wilmots, who guided Belgium to their first World Cup finals since 2002. "He needs matches to get into the rhythm. However, there can be no doubt about his ability or form when one reflects on how he played for Chelsea last season. That said, if he plays badly I will not hesitate to replace him."

    One theory being mooted is that Hazard has been distracted by talk of a transfer to French champions Paris Saint Germain, who have already bought his Chelsea team-mate David Luiz. The 45-year-old Belgium coach, who played at four World Cup finals, is having none of that, saying: "I can tell you that the players are focused on anything but possible transfers." "If I was still a player, I would put everything else to bed and wait for the end of the World Cup. In any case there are people (agents) paid to look after such matters." Hazard's father and business manager, Thierry, supported Wilmots and said: "I read every day things that are not true. Eden asked of me one thing: that he be allowed to concentrate solely on the World Cup. "As regards his future, there will be nothing about that during the tournament. Eden is ready to have an outstanding World Cup."

    Belgium's first outing at the finals will be against Algeria on 17 June.

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    Belgium given Lukaku boost

    Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has trained for the first time in Brazil after suffering an injury scare and gave the team a boost by coming through unscathed. Lukaku, who spent a productive campaign on loan at Everton from Chelsea last season, picked up an ankle injury in a physical friendly against Tunisia on Saturday.

    "I have my 23 players available and we are delighted to be in Brazil after three weeks of preparation," said Belgium coach Marc Wilmots, who earlier signed a new deal to remain as coach until 2018. Belgium are in Group H at the FIFA World Cup™ and start their campaign against Algeria on 17 June at Belo Horizonte before facing Russia and Korea Republic.

    An agreement between Wilmots, who has been in charge since 2012, and the Belgian federation had been reached in April but he was waiting for his backroom staff to sign before he committed himself to an updated contract.

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    Belgium striker worries deepen

    Belgium's striking crisis deepened on Saturday with teenage forward Divock Origi being taken to hospital for scans on an ankle injury, just days away from their opening FIFA World Cup™ Group H game against Algeria. Origi, who is of Kenyan descent, had to be helped off the training pitch at Mogi das Cruzes in Sau Paulo State after suffering the injury following a challenge from midfielder Moussa Dembele.

    Belgium have already seen Aston Villa forward Christian Benteke ruled out of the tournament with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku, who had a successful loan spell at Everton last season, only returned to training on Wednesday after suffering an ankle injury in a bruising friendly with Tunisia last Saturday. If Lille's Origi, 19, does not recover by Tuesday, then Lukaku will be their only recognised central striker available for their Group H opener against Algeria in Belo Horizonte.

    There was more bad news for Belgium coach Marc Wilmots as winger Kevin de Bruyne limped off with yet another ankle problem following a challenge with Eden Hazard, although his appeared less serious. Still the problems kept coming, though, as centre-back Thomas Vermaelen complained of a knee problem at the end of the training session. If the worst comes to the worst, Belgium have until Monday to call up a replacement if one of their players is ruled out of the tournament through injury.

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    Fellaini: The subs made the difference

    It has not been an easy season for Marouane Fellaini. The burden of the big midfielder's hefty £27 million transfer fee at Manchester United has proved tough to shoulder, and the campaign ended with him warming the Red Devils' bench. Yet although it was from this same position on the sidelines that he began Belgium's FIFA World Cup™ opener against Algeria today, Fellaini was not downcast. For no matter how difficult the past few months have been, even the lowest moments never caused him to lose belief in his own ability. And when Belgium were struggling to break down a stubborn and well-organised defence in Belo Horizonte, Fellaini knew within himself that he could provide the solution.

    "I always believe," he told FIFA.com, "and I thought that, yes, if the coach gives me the call, I can help us win this match. One thing I know is that if my team-mates put crosses in the box for me, I can score goals. And you saw it today. Three times the ball came in for me and every time I won the header. I could have had a hat-trick. "I'm just glad that one went in though because we were beginning to run out of time, and it was important we took one of our chances. In the end, I think we got what we deserved. We started very nervously and played badly in the first half. But I think you saw the character of this team in the second half. We just needed to stay calm, make the right decisions, and doing that got us this fantastic result.

    "I'm really happy, both for myself and for the team. Scoring at a World Cup was a great moment for me and I immediately thought about my family, who always supported me through the years no matter what. Everything they did for me led to that moment." Fellaini's superb 70th-minute header began a stirring comeback that was eventually capped in style by another of Marc Wilmots' substitutes, Dries Mertens. And while some may question whether the Belgium coach erred in not starting with the players who did so much to alter the balance of the game, Wilmots did prove himself to be something of a prophet.

    "I tend to focus just as much on those that aren’t playing [in the starting line-up]," he had told FIFA on the eve of the match, adding that “half our winning goals in the qualifiers were scored by substitutes”. Wilmots, therefore, would not have been surprised by the source of Belgium's inspiration. And nor was Fellaini. "Everyone can see that it was guys who came off the bench who made the difference today," said the midfielder. "That's always possible with this team anyway because you know that we have a lot of strength throughout the squad. It's not just about the first 11 with us. And although it was me and the other two today, there are others who stayed on the bench who can be big and important players for Belgium at this World Cup."

    With one of Wilmots' predictions having already rung true, Fellaini will now hope that another proves similarly accurate. After all, in the build-up to Brazil 2014, the Belgium coach assessed his midfielder's travails and said simply: "The World Cup will be a good opportunity for him to take his revenge." Smiling at being reminded of those words, Fellaini said: "I hope he's right. I've definitely been looking forward to this tournament. It's my first World Cup and it's amazing to be part of it all. Every player in the world wants to be here, so I appreciate this opportunity very much. I just want to make the most of it now."

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    De Bruyne: Patience pays off

    Midfielder Kevin De Bruyne believes a patient approach will be the key to Belgium's FIFA World Cup™ success after they came from behind to beat Algeria 2-1 in their Group H opener. The Belgians trailed 1-0 at half-time in Tuesday's match after Algeria's Sofiane Feghouli converted a penalty, but they hit back with substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens scoring in the second half in Belo Horizonte.

    "The first half was very difficult because Algeria played well," De Bruyne said. "We had more spaces in the second half and we worked better to take the win. We were patient, which is something important in these types of games." Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said he had to lift his team's morale at half-time. "The players seemed like beaten men in the dressing room," he said. "But I told them that I was sure that we would score eventually."

    Wilmots made two crucial substitutions, bringing in goalscorers Fellaini and Mertens in the second half. "The substitutions I made injected a bit of pace, which changed the game after the break," Wilmots said. De Bruyne was voted man of the match as the Wolfsburg midfielder, formerly of Chelsea, set up Fellaini for his team's equaliser before making a key tackle to start a counter-attack that led to Belgium's winner. "Once we got the draw, I knew that we would be able to score again and win the game," he said, according to L'Equipe.

    De Bruyne knows that a lot of people are picking Belgium to top the group but he does not want to think about that prospect. "There is a lot of expectation on us," said the 22-year-old. "But we prefer to take it one game at a time. Now we will prepare in the best possible way for our next rival which is Russia. Then we will take on South Korea before we focus on the next round." Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic was disappointed with his team's loss but proud of their effort. "I told my players that they should not be ashamed of the result," he said. "We came close to achieving something great. We weren't far away from pulling off an upset. We are disappointed but we cannot cry. We have to be ready for our next game, which will be a stern test."

    Belgium take on Russia on Sunday at the Maracanã stadium. Russia drew 1-1 against the Korea Republic in Tuesday's other Group H game and the result left Algeria at the foot of the standings. The African side face South Korea in Porto Alegre on Sunday.

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