ACCORDING to FIFA’s rankings, Belgium are currently the best team in the world. The challenge facing Roberto Martinez’s side over the next four weeks is to prove they are the cream of the European crop. Do that, and Europe’s latest ‘golden generation’ will finally have lived up to their billing.

They disappointed somewhat in France five years ago, losing to Wales in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, and while they made it to the World Cup semi-finals in Russia two years later, the limp manner of their last-four defeat to France was somewhat underwhelming. To risk being billed as international nearly-men, they need to prove they are capable of taking that next step.

The signs were certainly positive in qualifying, with Belgium recording a perfect ten wins out of ten as they scored 40 goals and conceded just three. Martinez’s squad has remained relatively settled throughout the last three-year cycle, with quality from one end of the pitch to the other.

Thibaut Courtois is one of Europe’s best goalkeepers, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen provide a solid defensive base despite fading from the limelight at Tottenham, while in midfield and attack, Belgium boast a plethora of talent that would be the envy of any team in the world.

Youri Tielemans, Dries Mertens, Axel Witsel, Dennis Praet and Yannick Carrasco. And that’s before we even get to Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.

Fitting them all into the same team is a challenge, with Martinez tending to favour a 3-4-3 formation that limits the number of attacking midfielders he can get onto the field. De Bruyne’s fitness levels are another concern, with the recently-crowned PFA Player of the Year having suffered a facial injury in Manchester City’s Champions League final defeat to Chelsea. The signs in the last week have been positive though, with Martinez adamant de Bruyne has every chance of being fit for Belgium’s opening group game.

That comes tomorrow, with the Belgians lining up against Russia in St Petersburg. Group B is far from the strongest in the tournament, but the fact Belgium must play both Russia and Denmark in their own country in what are effectively away games provides an added level of difficulty. Nevertheless, it would be a huge surprise if Belgium were not a major factor in the latter stages of the knockout rounds.

They should have more than enough to deal with Russia tomorrow, with their opponents’ attempts to rebuild after reaching the World Cup quarter-finals on home soil in 2018 not really having gone to plan.

Head coach Stanislav Cherchesov has tried to move on, ushering the likes of Igor Akinfeev, Sergei Ignashevich and Aleksandr Samedov into retirement, but the youngsters selected in their place have not really impressed. Hence a continued reliance on 37-year-old Yuri Zhirkov and 32-year-old Artem Dzyuba.

Playing in front of Russian fans in St Petersburg for two of the three group games should help, but this does not look a vintage Russia side.

If there is to be a dark horse in Group B it is probably Denmark, who, like Russia, will benefit from home advantage with all three of their group games being staged in Copenhagen.

The Danes famously won the Euros in 1992 after they were called up as late replacements for a warring Yugoslavia, and while a repeat of that feat this summer might be stretching it, they could be a factor in the knockout rounds.

Kasper Schmeichel is as good as any goalkeeper in the tournament, while a central-defensive pairing of Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen and AC Milan’s Simon Kjaer ensures a solid base. Christian Eriksen remains Denmark’s talisman in midfield, and while scoring goals can be an issue, a combination of former Middlesbrough forward Martin Braithwaite and RB Leipzig’s Yussuf Poulsen should muster something of a threat.

Denmark are unlikely to be easy opponents for anyone, and while being solid and reliable isn’t normally enough to win a major tournament, it can often take you quite a long way.

Denmark are joined in Group B by their neighbours Finland, who are preparing to compete in their first major tournament. Simply qualifying was a major achievement for the Finns, who are unlikely to repeat the exploits of Iceland, who excelled on debut in France five years ago.

Norwich’s Teemu Pukki is Finland’s star man, although the strength of the Finnish side tends to come from the collective. They have been together for quite some time now, and are determined to enjoy their first experience of Europe’s biggest stage.