Belgian sights firmly set on World Cup victory, Vermaelen says

Thomas Vermaelen considers Belgium to be genuine World Cup title contenders. (Reuters pic)

MOSCOW: Belgium will be deeply disappointed if they fail to win the World Cup, defender Thomas Vermaelen said on Sunday, in the first direct acknowledgement of the team’s belief in their ability to emerge triumphant in Russia.

While other players have kept up a steady mantra of taking the tournament one game at a time, the 32-year-old defender make clear his vista was firmly focused on next Sunday’s final at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

“We want desperately to get to the final and go on and win, because if it doesn’t happen it will forever be a disappointment. Our ambition is to go on and win the final,” Vermaelen told a news conference, some 48 hours ahead of the semifinal against France in Saint Petersburg.

“I believe in it, of course, especially as we find ourselves in the semifinals having knocked out one of the top favourites.”

“We’ve also shown we can play attractive football, we’ve come back from some difficult moments against Japan. It would be absurd to say we don’t believe.”

Friday’s 2-1 victory over Brazil in the quarter-finals followed a rousing come-from-behind win over the Japanese, where Belgium found themselves two goals behind with 30 minutes to play but won 3-2 in the round of 16.

Vermaelen believes France will be tougher opponents than five-time world champions Brazil.

“France were one of the favourites before the World Cup, and I think the game will be tougher than against Brazil because of their individual quality,” he said.

“I think they are a lot stronger in defense, I feel it’s going to be a hard tussle.”

He singled out his Barcelona team mate Samuel Umtiti.

“He’s quick and strong, a complete defender,” Vermaelen said.

But Belgium are counting on stars of their own like Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.

“For us to finally be able to knock out a formidable opponent is because of the experience we’ve picked up at previous tournaments and also the development of our players at their clubs,” Vermaelen said.