THOMAS Buffel believes that the golden generation of Belgian footballers will blow Scotland away on Friday night and become the team to be feared at the World Cup finals in Brazil.
As Buffel puts it, there has been a “Belgian invasion” of the Premiership with more than £140 million spent by Chelsea, Tottenham, Everton and Aston Villa to bring in some of the world’s most exciting players. The former Rangers star has watched Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and, recently, Kevin de Bruyne star at Stamford Bridge, while Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele and Nacer Chadli are making Tottenham tick.
Marouane Fellaini and Kevin Mirallas have wowed the Everton fans, with Fellaini moving to Manchester United in a £27.5m deadline deal and Lukaku going on loan to Everton, while Paul Lambert made his best Aston Villa signing with Buffel’s former Racing Genk team-mate, Christian Benteke. Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet can’t get in the team as Thibaut Courtois – on loan at Atletico Madrid from Chelsea – is so good.
Belgium will be missing injured inspirational skipper and defender Vincent Kompany, of Manchester City, but Buffel insists that Belgium’s quality will overwhelm Gordon Strachan’s side. He said: “The way Belgium have been playing makes other teams afraid and that makes matches so much easier to play.
“There are so many players who can make a good action in a split second and Scotland will know that. I can’t see anything other than Belgium winning well. Qualification still has to be achieved and Belgium have to go to Croatia but, if they get a good draw next summer in Brazil, then it could be very exciting.”
Belgium have won six and drawn one of their seven qualifying matches for the loss of just two goals and victory at Hampden would take them tantalisingly close to clinching their spot at the 2014 finals.
It will be the first time they will have made it to a major tournament since Japan/South Korea in 2002. So what has made them such a force?
“It really all started with the basics and good youth systems,” said Buffel, 32. “A few years ago all of the top teams decided to have a good development programme. To get the budgets right many clubs have to sell youth players and, for a while, that policy was not working very well. An investment like that always takes time but you can see the benefits now.”
Buffel won the Belgian title alongside Benteke and De Bruyne in the Genk side in 2011, reaching the Champions League group phase, and he has rubbed shoulders with the rest on international duty, with his last cap coming in February in a 2-1 friendly win over Slovakia.
“Now we have a fantastic team and it has come towards the end of my career but there is still a chance for me if I play well for Genk this season.”