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Sunday, 11 June, 2000, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Saturday night football fever
Belgian fans
The Belgians lost their renowned reserve
BBC Sport Online's Pete Lansley reports from Brussels on the night football fever finally got the Belgians excited.

From the point when the giant wheeling skeletal figure completed a surreal dream sequence, to the moment seconds into the second half when Emile Mpenza unleashed his firework, the Belgians cast aside their natural restraint and partied.

Their cloak of modesty was shed, while inhibitions dropped away from their ankles like unlocked chains.

Grown Belgian men, without recourse to chocolate or waffles, danced on the spot, arms round each other's shoulders, yelling along to I Will Survive.

Surreal ceremony

But just who were those white-sheet men with balls for heads?
Ceremony giant
Kennet Andersson or a giant inflatable man?

"No idea," said one Belgian fan, Robin, as if he feared he had been caught having a good time.

And the massive figure that got the Belgians whooping with beer-fuelled delight?

"Kennet Andersson," suggested the Swedes behind.

It all put Diana Ross's missed penalty before USA 94 to shame.

And when the two teams came out and stood for the national anthems with kids in the opposing teams' kit, you felt this was the centre of the footballing universe.

Thoroughly entertaining

In a fascinating switch from tradition, these teams proceeded to slug it out in a thoroughly entertaining opening fixture.

Before the game, a German in an Argentina shirt had been desperate to sell his ticket.

"It's 0-0 whatever, right?" he asked. He must have been glad he failed.
Ceremony balloons
The centre of the football universe

Bart Goor's neatly-taken opening goal seconds before the break was ideally-timed - for the sake of the game and the tournament considering the lift this victory will give the co-hosts,

Belgian fan Koen poked fun at the Swedes behind, with a short sharp expletive and then a grinning: "It happens."

Not often a minute or so either side of half-time. And not against Sweden.

Within 40 seconds of the restart, Mpenza scored what will be an immediate contender for goal of the tournament.

Before the game, that would have been even more unlikely than Sweden scoring three.

Flying pigs

Just as it was being suggested that pigs could be seen flying across the Brussels skyline, Filip De Wilde, in the Belgian goal, went and stood on a backpass and asked Celtic's Johan Mjallby to walk the ball home. Game on.

The first Mexican Wave came home, rather ominously, in the 21st minute. But the game became too absorbing for many more.

On the touchline, the first-aiders were very Belgian, spending the first half sitting in a row with their hard hats pulled on tight.

By the middle of the second half, these Playpeople types had acquired little medical signs on their backs.

Then, sure enough, as they ran on to tend to Gert Verheyen, they had their little medical boxes clutched in their hands

They all bent down as one to pick up the stretcher.

By that stage Patrik Andersson had also taken his leave, sent off for a second yellow card. No opening game is complete without a red card.

But Verheyen wanted to continue, unaware of the fact that substitute Jacky Peeters had already replaced him.
Belgian fan
Pulses running high

As the Bruges winger recovered and waved to the ref to be allowed back on, the Belgian dug-out leapt dramatically to their feet, pulses hitting a new high in Brussels, hand-signalling for him to stay off the pitch.

Tranmere may have got away with it, but let's take no risks here.

So Belgium survived Sweden's late charge and deserved their win.

Robin, complete with his Eric Gerets scarf, got ready for some serious beer drinking in the city centre.

Belgium, their inferiority complex mislaid, at least for 24 hours until the Dutch play, partied.

And the tweed-jacketed chap on the Metro summed it up neatly.

"All week Belgians have been staying cool, unwilling to let on they were excited," he said, hair marginally out of place.

"Now they will have a great night in the Grand Place."

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See also:

10 Jun 00 | Belgium
Belgium kick off with fine win
11 Jun 00 | Euro2000
Clashes after Euro 2000 opener
11 Jun 00 | Belgium
De Wilde blames bobble
10 Jun 00 | Belgium
Spectacular opening for Euro 2000
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