Robert Waseige, manager of the Belgian team that will face Japan in the World Cup finals, kept his cards very close to his chest as he met the Japanese media on Monday.
Asked how well acquainted he was with the Japanese team, he replied: “I don’t know anyone apart from Nakata.”
Waseige says he only has knowledge of the Japan team from videos he has watched, although he did concede to having seen Shinji Ono play for Feyenoord on television.
He added, “I have watched the videos of Japan with my assistants and we can see who are the important players and how they play.” He emphasized, however, that for Belgium, this World Cup is not all about Japan.
“We mustn’t forget there are four teams in our group,” he pointed out. “And I’m concentrating more on my team rather than worrying so much about the other teams.”
The news conference was also attended by the Belgian ambassador, Gustavus Dierckx, and Jan Peeters, the president of the Belgian Football Association, who said that a high-powered delegation from Belgium — including Crown Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde, the prime minister and the foreign minister — is expected to attend the Japan match at Saitama Stadium on June 4.
Peeters noted that Belgium’s population (10 million) is barely equivalent to that of Tokyo, but the country has 2,000 soccer clubs with 420,000 members. The country has also reached the World Cup finals through qualifying matches for the sixth straight time, a feat unmatched even by the giants of soccer.
Peeters announced that the Belgian team will play two warmup matches at its training camp in Kumamoto, the first against a Kyushu Select XI and the second against another World Cup qualifier, to be named later.
Peeters added that he was more than happy with Belgium’s choice for its training camp.
“We chose Kumamoto for many reasons, but mainly because it’s a fantastic place and with great facilities,” he said. “But also we have been impressed by the assistance offered by the authorities in Kumamoto and the kindness of the people there.”
Peeters said he expects up to 5,000 Belgian supporters to come to Japan.
Waseige said he, too, was pleased with the organization ahead of the World Cup.
“The quality of this World Cup can be seen in the quality of the organization surrounding it,” he noted. “And we can also see it in the quality of the infrastructure here, the stadiums and modern technology.”
While Waseige refused to predict the outcome of Group H — “All the teams are strong, so you can’t predict what’s going to happen,” he commented — he was fulsome in his praise of Japan coach Philippe Troussier.
“I think he has had spectacular success with the national team,” the Belgian boss conceded, revealing, perhaps, that he knows more than he’s letting on about his hosts. “We have a lot of respect for the ability of the Japanese team. I’ve seen the progression of the team on the field and in its tactics and in the presence of this team, and the progress has been enormous.”
He also said he was amazed by the number of journalists covering soccer in Japan.
“The press of Japan is a revelation for us,” he said. “And the people are so kind. To have kind journalists is something I’m not used to.”
Peeters noted that Waseige is incredibly popular in his home country, calling the coach “courageous and with an incomparable knowledge of the game and players.”
Waseige said one of the secrets of his success was to remember humility.
“The fact that we’ve qualified for the World Cup six times reflects the mentality of the Belgians,” Waseige concluded. “It shows their passion, perseverance and humility. If you don’t remember humility, you will have problems.”
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