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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
Coach gets Belgium united
Belgium fans believe their team is on the up
Fans have enjoyed the majority of results under Waseige
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When the "Diables Rouges" keeper Filip de Wilde had his moment of madness and was dismissed against Turkey in Euro 2000, the Belgium coach Robert Waseige shook him by the hand.

It was a reflection of the coach's unflinching loyalty to his players that he refused to pin the blame for his side's early exit from the tournament on any one player.

Such loyalty is one of the reasons why Waseige is universally liked in Belgium, even by the Press - at least as long as the results are good.

Open Quote
Waseige has removed the media pressure, it's down to his experience and charisma
Close Quote
Goalkeeper Gert De Vlieger

In a land still divided by two official languages, it helps that he now gives his press conferences in both tongues - switching between French and Flemish, often in mid- sentence.

He may have been named Belgian coach of the year three times, but Wasiege has won surprisingly little silverware in the game.

His biggest success was taking Winterslag (later to become Racing Genk) from the third division to the first in the early seventies.

In typical style, he later rejected an offer, made by telephone, to coach Anderlecht, Belgium's biggest club.

Waseige had just agreed to return to his former team and interrupted his caller, the Anderlecht president, to apologise.

"Excuse me Mr Vanden Stock, but I've just given my word to Winterslag," he said.

Bart Goor is one of the Belgian side's most experienced players
Wasiege has built his team around experienced players such as Bart Goor

Almost 60 by the time he replaced his dour predecessor Georges Leekens, Waseige was thought to be past his sell-by date.

He underwent heart surgery last April and now walks five miles a day.

His first game in charge was a 5-5 draw with Holland, with two goals from Derby County's Branco Strupar marking his first international start.

With the exception of Euro 2000, where the pressure clearly told, results have generally been good.

Waseige has added youthful talent to an experienced core of players who were regulars under Leekens, such as Schalke 04's Marc Wilmots, Gert Verheyen, of Club Bruges, and Bart Goor of Hertha Berlin.

According to Verheyen, Waseige has given the team some much-needed self-belief.

"We used to play 4-4-2 with a lot of players behind the ball and never adapted to the opposition," Verheyen told BBC Sport Online.

"Now we have confidence in our own ability and it shows."

Goalkeeper Gert De Vlieger, of Dutch first division side Willem II, is also full of praise for the coach.

Open Quote
If there's anyone here who is not motivated or doesn't believe that we can qualify, they can go home
Close Quote
Robert Waseige

"It's not easy to create a good ambience in the Belgium dressing-room, but now the atmosphere is excellent," de Vlieger said.

"Waseige has removed the media pressure, it's down to his experience and charisma."

Not everyone would agree that the coach is always charismatic.

After qualifying for the World Cup finals, he was asked if this was the best moment of his career.

"No, that was when I started coaching Winterslag, back in the third division," he said.

Waseige, a man of the people, is clearly not afraid to speak his mind.

Before the play-offs with the Czech Republic, after the withdrawal of the inspirational captain Wilmots, Waseige addressed his squad.

"If there's anyone here who is not motivated or doesn't believe that we can qualify, they can go home."

Of course, no-one left. And they are enjoying a trip to Japan and Korea.

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