Mignolet says Belgium can reach Brazil
Simon Mignolet fresh from helping Sunderland make their point at Swansea City, Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has stayed in Wales this week with the intention of putting his country on course for World Cup
There will be greater expectancy on the shoulders of the Belgium team when they head out in Cardiff on Friday night than there was on the Black Cats at the Liberty Stadium six days earlier. Sunderland's transfer spending last week has increased the excitement on Wearside and raised hope of a positive first full season under Martin O'Neill, but a point was seen as a decent outcome against the Swans last Saturday. On Friday, though, Mignolet will have to deal with a different kind of pressure in the same area of the British Isles. Rather than have the demands of a club and a city on his shoulders, the 24-year-old is aware of the expectations of his homeland.
It is a decade since Belgium last qualified for either the World Cup or the European Championships and there were questions asked when they failed to reach Euro 2012 with a group of players being labelled their 'golden generation'. And it is with that in mind Belgium will head to the Millennium Stadium on Friday night looking for the perfect start in Group A - against a Welsh squad looking for win number one under new manager Chris Coleman.
"We know we are favourites, because all the lads have signed at big clubs now," said Mignolet. "There are a lot of players who play in the Premier League and we have a lot of talent. "But in the past it has shown we didn't manage to get the points on the board we wanted. This group is going to be very tough because everyone can beat each other. Croatia, Serbia, Scotland and Wales are all very good teams. It will be tough. "This will be our first qualifier. We want to get three points on the board. It is very important. We started badly when we missed out on qualification for the Euros, that cost us dearly. Hopefully we can start well now."
Mignolet established himself as Belgium's No 1 at the turn of the year and knows all about the qualities of those players he has playing in front of him. Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen, Manchester City's Vincent Kompany, Everton's Marouane Fellaini and Chelsea's Eden Hazard are all playing in the Premier League, but the majority of the squad are all recognised names across Europe.
"We have to deal with the pressure from outside," said Mignolet. "Wales are a good team and it will show where we are in the group. Everyone expects us now to qualify for the next World Cup. That is why there is pressure on us. Qualification has been done over a period of two years not only the game against Wales but obviously we want to start well."
Mignolet conceded two goals at Swansea last Saturday but also made a number of saves to highlight why he is ahead of Keiren Westwood in the Sunderland pecking order. Westwood has now been given the first opportunity to replace Shay Given in the Republic of Ireland goal following the former Newcastle man's retirement from international football. Mignolet thinks the battle at the Stadium of Light to play will help him to develop further.
He said: "There is pressure on me every week because we now have potentially two international goalkeepers at Sunderland. "That keeps everyone on their toes, having two goalkeepers like that here. I just have to play my own game but of course, you know that the manager has options."
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