The 'Derby der Lage Landen' (Low Countries derby) is always a big occasion in Belgium and the Netherlands, with Wednesday's 125th meeting of the neighbours seeing two coaching debuts at Brussels' Roi Baudouin Stadium.
At 43, Marc Wilmots has succeeded Georges Leekens as Belgium boss while Louis van Gaal returns for a second spell in charge of the Oranje, having missed out on the 2002 FIFA World Cup in his previous stint from 2000–02.
An attacking midfielder capped 70 times by the Red Devils, Wilmots played for Belgium at that 2002 tournament but has relatively little coaching experience as he looks to inspire a strong generation. Briefly coach of FC Schalke 04 and K. Sint-Truidense VV, Wilmots worked as Leekens' assistant and has inherited substantial expectations.
With the likes of Vincent Kompany, Marouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard, Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen performing in the English Premier League, Wilmots recognises that Belgium have the ability to qualify for a major championship for the first time since 2002.
"We have a group of 35 potential players," he said. "All of them have to pull in the same direction. Look at Portugal – in the past always a team of individuals, now a solid block and in the EURO 2012 semi-finals.
"First we have to learn to work together, then we have to be there," the former R. Standard de Liège and Schalke man added. "No more excuses. We have excellent players but have not achieved anything yet. I have had enough of commentating on EUROs and World Cups for TV. It is time to be there again in person, high time."
If Belgium have untapped potential, the Netherlands have a sense of unfulfilled promise having bowed out of UEFA EURO 2012 at the group stage. That failure prompted Bert van Marwijk's resignation, and Van Gaal – at 61 – will attempt to show the leadership qualities that won him titles at AFC Ajax, FC Barcelona, AZ Alkmaar and FC Bayern München.
"I want to get to the World Cup as I have never been there yet," he said. "As club coach I have already won everything possible, but as national team coach I have not."
Unusually, Van Gaal has not conferred with Van Marwijk about his plans. "I have not spoken to him," said Van Gaal, who will be assisted by Danny Blind and Patrick Kluivert, both of whom played under him. "I want to start with a clean sheet. The chemistry is down to who is involved. I am a different person and my staff is almost completely new. I cannot judge by what happened at EURO 2012."
He should have a clearer view of his task after the derby. Since the sides first met on 30 April 1905, the Dutch have won 55 encounters to their neighbours' 40, with the Red Devils prevailing in the most recent match-up on 29 May 2004.
Van Gaal, who played for R. Antwerp FC in the 1970s, holds Belgium in high regard. "I played in Belgium for four years and that was a beautiful period in my life. My first child was born there. I just read that in 2004 we lost to Belgium, so such a result is not unusual."
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