Belgium will hope to meet the rising expectations of their nation by getting their FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign off to a winning start in Wales.

The Belgians have not reached the finals of a major tournament for ten years but now boast one of the most exciting young squads in the European game.

With the likes of Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Marouane Fellaini, Mousa Dembele and Eden Hazard now major players in England's top flight, Belgium are joint favourites to win Group A in the race for Brazil 2014 places.

Other leading Premier League names in the squad for tomorrow's opening qualifier at the Cardiff City Stadium include Simon Mignolet, Jan Vertonghen, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas, while Axel Witsel has just left Benfica for Zenit St Petersburg for £32m.

Wales, whose last FIFA World Cup appearance was in 1958, also have a squad containing greater top-flight experience than in recent years but have been hit by injuries ahead of Chris Coleman's first competitive campaign.

Kompany, the Belgium captain and Manchester City defensive linchpin, said: "Wales have got a lot of hope in their team and the hope people in Belgium now have to qualify for the World Cup is unreal. It does bring pressure with it but we need to be able to deal with it."

Tomorrow's other match in a tough-looking Group A sees the other most-fancied side, Croatia, host Macedonia in Zagreb.

The Croats performed impressively at UEFA EURO 2012, beating the Republic of Ireland, holding Italy to a draw and narrowly losing to eventual winners Spain. They are now moving into a new era under recently-appointed coach Igor Stimac after six years of progress with Slaven Bilic at the helm.

"I am convinced I will continue this level of success," former Derby County and West Ham United defender Stimac said of his predecessor. "Moreover, I will raise the quality of play. I am happy to have this opportunity to prove myself to those people who are sceptical about my abilities and don't believe in me."

Macedonia have never qualified for a major tournament and face a tough task at the Maksimir Stadium, although they are lifted by a first win in seven in last month's friendly against Lithuania.

The countries met in qualification for UEFA EURO 2008 with the home sides winning the encounters. The other team considered the main contender in the group, Serbia, take on Scotland at Hampden Park on Saturday.

The Serbs are also playing competitively for the first time under a new coach in Sinisa Mihajlovic, the former Fiorentina boss. He has a squad that looks particularly strong in defence, even after the retirement from international duty of Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic.

Lyon's Milan Bisevac, Neven Subotic of Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic and Manchester City pair Aleksandar Kolarov and Matija Nastasic remain in the ranks.

The clash in Glasgow will be the first meeting between the two countries.