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Wednesday, 12 June, 2002, 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK

Players agree media blackout

Belgium have closed ranks behind under-fire coach Robert Waseige ahead of the game that could make or break their World Cup campaign.

Players in the 23-man squad refused to talk to the media on Wednesday after reports in the Belgian press urged Waseige to resign.

" We couldn't believe our ears, the criticism of the coach is devastating "
Francois Colin
Belgian journalist

"Waseige has to leave immediately," Het Nieuwsblad sports editor Francois Colin said of the coach who has already announced he will quit after the World Cup.

Colin's editorial in Het Nieuwsblad, which also appeared in several other Flemish newspapers, said at least five senior players were no longer happy with the coach.

"We couldn't believe our ears yesterday. What came out of the team was incredible. The criticism of the coach is devastating.

"They (the players) no longer see their coach as a father figure, but as an unbearable moaner."

Waseige's side need to beat Russia in their final Group H game on Friday to stand any chance of reaching the tournament's second round.

But, after two unimpressive draws against Japan and Tunisia, there is little confidence that Belgium can rescue their campaign.

"The Belgian Football Federation decided together with the players not to speak to the media until after the match on Friday," a team spokesman said.

"They are unhappy with the coverage, but we hope to win and put things right."

A team meeting with Jan Peeters, president of the Belgian federation, and the players ended with them coming out in support of Waseige.

" I want to concentrate on the match - it's a very important game for us "
Robert Waseige

The Flemish media have repeatedly criticised the coach, a French speaker, but the rifts in the Belgium camp appear to have grown wider in the past week.

Waseige himself refused to be drawn on the issue. "We need to forget about this business," he said on Wednesday.

"I want to concentrate on the match.

"It is a very important game for us, and the players and staff must be totally focused on our job."

Waseige is leaving his post after the finals to take over at Standard Liege.

The good news for Waseige is that all his players are fit for the Russia game, with left back Nico Van Kerckhoven set to reclaim his place after overcoming an abductor muscle strain.

Japan lead Group H with four points, followed by Russia on three, Belgium on two and Tunisia one. Japan play Tunisia in their last group game, also on Friday.

Belgium, whose best finals performance was a fourth-place finish in 1986, went out at the first-round stage in France four years ago.

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