BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — Belgium returns to its first World Cup in 12 years brimming with confidence and determination before the Group H opener against Algeria.
Belgium's best cluster of players in a generation is in fierce competition for a starting place Tuesday at Estadio Mineirao. It's so fierce that a couple of players have picked up knocks in aggressive training sessions.
Coach Marc Wilmots hopes the competitiveness will produce a strong fighting spirit against the Algerians, who have been playing with more flair in recent years. In some respects, Wilmots doesn't know what tactics to expect from the African team.
"I can't really look into the cards of the Algerians," Wilmots said. "They have been playing a 4-3-3. They can play a 4-4-2. We can prepare for 3,000 different options — the only thing we can do is be ready."
Belgium is widely considered the favorite in Group H, which also includes Russia and South Korea, even without the presence of preferred lone striker Christian Benteke, who missed out on Brazil because of injury. Belgium boasts a crop of talent playing for top clubs teams in Spain and England, including goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, midfielder Eden Hazard and captain Vincent Kompany.
But Algeria comes to this tournament hoping to surpass the achievement of the 1982 World Cup team, which beat European champion West Germany in a group game. Even though it didn't get past the group stage, it's still considered to be the north African country's best team.
Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic acknowledges that Belgium is considered the favorite to win, particularly as two-thirds of his squad is playing in a World Cup for the first time.