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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Devils ready to go
Waseige and Wilmots
Waseige and his "real leader" Wilmots

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As the countdown to the opening match of their World Cup campaign enters its final stages, Belgium coach Robert Waseige is a man clearly content with the squad he has assembled around him.

It has not been the easiest of preparations for the Diables Rouges.

Open Quote
The World Cup is important - this is not the time to prepare the team for the next tournament
Close Quote
Robert Waseige

Key players have dropped out injured, the Belgian media has been restless and the timing of Waseige's own resignation announcement was unfortunate to say the least.

But, as his players prepare for the opening showdown with co-hosts Japan on 4 June, Waseige was looking forward - not back.

Inspirational team captain Marc Wilmots, like Waseige, will be severing his ties with the national team after the tournament is over and the coach says he will be a hard act to follow.

"The team will soon have to learn how to live without Wilmots, a real leader," Waseige told BBC Sport Online. "Some people say that he is too outspoken but Wilmots is a winner.

"This current squad is fairly laid back. It won't be easy to replace him, you can't do it overnight."

Goalkeeper Geert De Vlieger trains on Thursday
Goalkeeper Geert De Vlieger trains on Thursday

Despite the loss of Emile Mpenza, Waseige remains happy with the players at his disposal in attack.

Wesley Sonck has emerged at just the right time, Branco Strupar is back and there is possibility of using Wilmots and Gert Verheyen up front.

In midfield, the coach wants players such as Johan Walem and Sven Vermant to impose themselves.

"We've got good options in attack," Waseige said. "Previously we have been short of forwards - now we have several.

"The midfield is fine, although we don't have a genuine number 10. But who does? Look at Manchester United, for example.

"We have several creative players but they will have to prove themselves on a regular basis."

It is at the back that Waseige sees the need for rebuilding in the future.

Younger players

"In defence we are perhaps lacking some mobility. (Daniel) Van Buyten is a young player of great potential but he's not yet the finished article.

"Some of the others are over 30 so they will have to reconstruct the team there somewhat."

Waseige is adamant that this is not the right time to blood youngsters. There were strong calls from ex-players such as Marc Degryse to bring in Racing Genk's Koen Daerden from the Under-21 squad.

"The World Cup is important. It's not the time to prepare the team for the next tournament," Waseiege responds.

"We're not strong enough for that. If we didn't have enough good players who deserved to be in the squad, then I would give priority to younger players.

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Above all, I believe in stability - players need to know they can afford to have a bad game
Close Quote
Robert Waseige

"It annoys me when people say that we should use the World Cup to prepare primarily for the next one, after we've fought like dogs to make it to the finals."

On his playing principles, Waseige stresses his beliefs in continuity and stability.

"Above all a national coach needs to develop a way of playing that is consistent. Since I've been in charge, we've always played 4-4-2, in a flexible way.

"Within that basic shape, you need players who are complementary - within the centre of defence for example. Above all I believe in stability.

"Players need to know that they can afford to have a poor game. Everyone can have a lapse. That increases their confidence."

Perhaps it is because of this confidence, but an air of serenity certainly surrounding the Belgium squad.

Japan on Tuesday cannot come quickly enough.


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GROUP H
  P GD PTS
JAPAN 3 +3 7
BELGIUM 3 +1 5
RUSSIA 3 0 3
TUNISIA 3 -4 1

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