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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Young devils on the march
Belgium striker Emile Mpenza
Belgium striker Emile Mpenza is still only 23
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Four years ago, Belgium returned home from the World Cup in disgrace after an ageing team, with Enzo Scifo and Franky Van der Elst prominent, failed to win a match in France.

This time, coach Robert Waseige has turned to his younger players ahead of the tournament. And maybe, just maybe, the kids are ready.

Six players in particular, all 25 or under, could make their mark in Japan and Korea this summer.

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Leboeuf has said he's willing to teach me - you can't put a price on that
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Daniel Van Buyten

Marseille centre-back Daniel van Buyten, 24, left Standard Liege last summer with a 7m price tag on his 6ft 5in frame and has forced his way into a team where the fans expect success.

Now playing alongside ex-Chelsea defender Frank Leboeuf in France, Van Buyten praises his colleague.

"Leboeuf has said that he's willing to teach me and you can't put a price on that," he told BBC Sport Online.

In midfield, Waseige has brought in Club Bruges' Timmy Simons in place of Yves Vanderhaege.

Simons is quiet, unassuming and, some would say, superhuman.

"You have to look after your body. Even if you feel some pain, you have to train," Simons, 25, said.

He has played the full 90 minutes in every game since arriving at Bruges at the start of the 2000-2001 season - over 70 successive games.

And Simons is just as proud of the fact that he has not missed a training session for five years.

Wesley Sonck
Sonck could also land a place in Waseige's squad

Alongside him, most people would like to see Anderlecht's Walter Baseggio, 23.

That is the Baseggio of the 2000-2001 season, when "Les Mauves" rampaged through Europe, rather than the current model.

Baseggio - whose parents are Italian - is looking a little sluggish since his comeback from injury and critics say he spends too much time discussing a possible move to Serie A.

That said, an on-form Baseggio could make a huge difference to the Belgium midfield.

In attack, the odds are improving on the Mpenza brothers joining forces.

But it's more likely that the elder Mpenza, Mbo, will shadow Verheyen on the right while young Emile does his thing up the middle.

They came to the fore with Excelsior Mouscron in 1997 and moved somewhat acrimoniously to Standard Liege.

Goals and caps followed until January 2000, when the brothers took different directions - Mbo to Sporting Lisbon, Galatasaray (and subsequent oblivion) and Emile to the Bundesliga's Schalke 04 (and fame and fortune).

Mbo, now 25, returned to Belgium in December and is a man with something to prove.

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I knew I had certain skills but I didn't think I could achieve this much so soon
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Wesley Sonck

"When I came back to Mouscron, they (the press) said I was finished but now I'm back in the national team," he said.

Emile, the Schalke flyer, could be one of the stars of the tournament or his temperamental fitness could leave him watching the games from the sidelines - it's a close call.

More likely than Mbo Mpenza to start in attack is a sixth youngster - 23- year-old Racing Genk striker Wesley Sonck.

He has scored 28 league goals at just over a goal a game, a total bettered only in Europe by Sporting Lisbon's Mario Jardel.

Sonck is still pinching himself. "I knew I had certain skills but I didn't think I could achieve this so soon," he said.

So, it all rests with the kids. Waseige has progressively introduced younger players who he thinks could make this Belgium side one to remember.

The class of 86 reached the World Cup semi-finals. Who knows how far the class of 2002 can progress?

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