Belgium vs. Ivory Coast: Preview

Shaun Botterill

Talent on talent on talent.

When Belgium and the Ivory Coast square off on Wednesday, it can -- nay, should -- be a match-up of two World Cup knockout stages teams. Both teams are good and both got favorable draws, giving them high hopes looking towards Brazil.

Belgium were gifted a World Cup group of Russia, South Korea and Algeria, but the Ivory Coast made out well too. They're grouped with Colombia, but the other two teams are Japan and Greece, giving the Elephants a chance to make the knockout stages for the first time in their history.

It's no surprise that Belgium are favorites to win Group H. They dominated a strong qualifying group, besting Croatia and Serbia, and are stacked with talent. That Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku are in the form of their lives only makes them more formidable, giving them great attacking talent to go with Thibaut Courtois in goals, Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen in defense and Axel Witsel, Mousa Dembele, Marouane Fellaini and Kevin Mirallas in the midfield, among others.

With so much talent, the questions for Belgium aren't whether they're good enough or even who will make the team, but instead who will start. Fellaini hasn't been a regular starter for Belgium, while Christian Benteke has actually been favored to Lukaku. Will that continue heading into Brazil? Matches like these are chances for Fellaini and Lukaku to change things.

Ivory Coast doesn't have quite the same amount of talent, and those that they do have, like Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora, are aging. There is younger talent in the team, notably Serge Aurier, Brice Dja Djedje and Giovanni Sio, but they remain unproven. This could be Sabri Lamouchi's chance to get a look at them against a top notch team.

Both teams head into this match knowing that a win or loss isn't that important. Neither team is in need of confidence, but they do have a couple problems to sort out -- most of them enviable. Sorting out issues is what this match is for, and also to serve as a springboard for the summer when both expect to still be standing after the group stage comes to an end.

Squads

Belgium: Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet, Koen Casteels, Daniel Van Buyten, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Nicolas Lombaerts, Anthony Vanden Borre, Sebastien Pocognoli, Laurent Ciman, Timmy Simons, Mousa Dembele, Marouane Fellaini, Axel Witsel, Kevin Mirallas, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Kevin De Bruyne, Nacer Chadli, Radja Nainggolan, Romelu Lukaku, Christian Benteke

Ivory Coast: Boubacar Barry, Sylvain Gbohouo, Sayouba Mande, Dider Zikora, Kolo Toure, Siaka Tiene, Arthur Boka, Serge Aurier, Crice Dja Djedje, Ousmane Viera, Constant Djakpa, Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro, Yaya Toure, Romaric, Cheick Tiote, Max Gradel, Jean-Jacques Gosso, Serey Die, Mathis Bolly, Ismael Diomande, Jean Seri, Didier Drogba, Saloman Kalou, Gervinho, Wilfried Bony, Seymou Doumbia, Giovanni Sio

Match date/time: Wednesday, 8:45 p.m. local, 11:45 a.m. ET

Venue: Stade Roi Baudouin, Brussels, Belgium

TV: Club RTL (Belgium)

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