|Profiles - World Cup Teams - Belgium|
Belgium, a small country with few big-name soccer stars and lacking a money-spinning
league, have defied the odds again to reach the World Cup finals for the
sixth consecutive time.
Belgium, who usually reach the World Cup the hard way, qualified by beating the Czech Republic 2-0 on aggregate in the play-offs after finishing second behind Croatia in European qualifying group six.
The 'Red Devils' showed their traditional grit and determination as they doggedly defended their 1-0 first leg lead in the return match in Prague, eventually winning thanks to a late penalty from substitute Marc Wilmots.
'Without a doubt this qualification boosts the image of our country abroad,' said Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt in a letter congratulating the Devils for their victory.
The win restores the gloss to the reputation of veteran coach Robert Waseige after the team disappointed fans with their early exit from Euro 2000 which Belgium co-hosted.
Waseige, 62, has said he has no wish to step down as national coach, despite having quadruple heart bypass surgery earlier this year.
Belgium will be hoping to progress further in the 2002 championship than they did last time around in France.
In the 1998 finals, the 'Red Devils' were knocked out in the first round after struggling to secure draws against the Netherlands, Mexico and South Korea.
They bowed out of the competition with the whistles and jeers of their fans ringing in their ears.
Things only got worse over the following year and a string of poor results led to the sacking of Georges Leekens, the combative and self-assured national soccer coach, just nine months before Euro 2000.
Former Standard Liege coach Waseige took charge and restored Belgian pride, instilling some attacking flair into Belgium's traditionally defensive style.
His efficient, workmanlike team put together a creditable string of results despite the lack of stars.
But Belgium again disappointed in the Euro 2000 championships on their own soil, becoming the only host nation ever to be eliminated in the first stage.
Belgium's best World Cup performance was when they reached the semi-final of the 1986 competition in Mexico, losing 2-0 to a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina.
In both the 1990 World Cup in Italy and the 1994 finals in the United States, they reached the last 16.
Waseige's team, currently ranked 33rd in the world, favour a simple, direct style, using the width of the pitch to the maximum.
Under his leadership, Belgium have won 12 matches, drawn seven and lost five.
Their most accomplished player is Schalke 04 midfielder Wilmots, 32. He has won 61 caps since making his international debut in 1990 and has scored 24 goals.
Wilmots missed the first leg of the playoff against the Czech Republic through injury, but returned to score the decisive goal in the second leg.
His Schalke teammate Emile Mpenza missed both games against the Czechs but is one of the Belgians who could definitely capture some headlines next summer.
Another creative midfield player is Hertha Berlin's Bart Goor, who has scored seven international goals in 31 appearances.
Belgium have high hopes for 23-year-old striker Wesley Sonck, who has scored once in five games for the national side.
Overall, the sum of Belgium's parts is greater perhaps than the individual talent. Belgium will probably not win the World Cup, but they could be very hard to beat.