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Monday, 3 June, 2002, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
'Big Gert' comes of age
Belgium's Gert Verheyen goes through his paces in training
Gert Verheyen is expected to start in attack
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When Belgium qualified for the World Cup, Bruges captain Gert Verheyen was widely regarded as the man deserving the majority of the credit.

In the absence of the inspirational Marc Wilmots, Verheyen led the team to successive victories over the highly regarded Czech Republic.

In doing so he installed himself as favourite to replace Wilmots when the Schalke 04 player retires from international football after the World Cup.

But it is not a role that Verheyen would naturally assume. He is not a man who seeks the limelight.

Gert Verheyen
Belgium's Gert Verheyen
Born: 20.09.1970
Caps: 47
Goals: 10
Club: Club Bruges
That is perhaps because of early disappointments at Anderlecht as a teenager, where he spectacularly failed to make the grade as a striker with only three goals in 61 outings.

However, Verheyen found his spiritual home after being sold to Bruges and has now scored more than 100 goals in almost 300 appearances.

He won his first cap for Belgium in 1994 and is now a regular and valued member of the team.

However, he prefers to pay credit to his coach Robert Waseige when discussing Belgium's safe passage to the Far East.

"Waseige has brought calm to the squad and he's shown his flexibility," Verheyen told BBC Sport Online.

"Before he came we used to always play 4-4-2 and never adapted to the opposition.

"We were afraid and put too many players behind the ball, but Waseige has made us confident about our own ability."

Open Quote
A good Belgium team can beat anyone - a poor Belgium team can lose to anyone
Close Quote
Gert Verheyen
Verheyen is also refreshingly honest about the lack of "personalities" in the team in comparison to the previous squad, which included Enzo Scifo and Franky Van der Elst.

"Before we had some players who had played 80 games and some who had played a handful.

"Now, we don't have that big difference anymore. We're all the same, we've all played 30 or 40 matches and that makes us strong."

Verheyen made a brief substitute appearance during the 1998 World Cup and is due for a much more prominent role in the 2002 tournament.

And he feels that the second round is a "realistic" target. After that "anything is possible".

Verheyen thinks that Russia are the best team on paper in Group H but that Japan are an improving team - "they have a better structure now" - who need to be watched.

Japan, the co-hosts, are Belgium's first opponents before matches against Tunisia and Russia.


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  P GD PTS
JAPAN 3 +3 7
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RUSSIA 3 0 3
TUNISIA 3 -4 1

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