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Belgium's soul restored by World Cup qualification

Published: Saturday 12 October 2013, 18.15CET
Praising his players, Marc Wilmots said Belgium have "been given back their fans and their soul" after the Red Devils won 2-1 in Croatia to reach their first major tournament since 2002.
by Berend Scholten
Belgium's soul restored by World Cup qualification
Marc Wilmots receives a hug from defender Daniel Van Buyten ©AFP/Getty Images

Published: Saturday 12 October 2013, 18.15CET

Belgium's soul restored by World Cup qualification

Praising his players, Marc Wilmots said Belgium have "been given back their fans and their soul" after the Red Devils won 2-1 in Croatia to reach their first major tournament since 2002.

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said the national team "have been given back their fans and their soul" after his side defeated Croatia to secure a place at next summer's FIFA World Cup, their first major tournament qualification since 2002.

Wilmots captained the Red Devils to the last 16 in Japan and South Korea 11 years ago and since succeeding Georges Leekens in June 2012 he has moulded a talented squad brimming with potential into a dangerous attacking unit that has drawn admiring glances during their Group A campaign.

"We were very mature in our play," said Wilmots after a 2-1 win at the Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb. "Today you could see how we have developed as a team. We did not give away any space and hit them when we could." 

Under the 44-year-old's stewardship, Belgium will again dine at football's top table, but Wilmots stressed that he and his players cannot afford to rest on their laurels. "The story is not over by far," he insisted. "I will keep on working and preparing. It is now up to me and my staff to get this team in the best possible condition at the World Cup. Belgium have been given back their fans and their soul.

"If anyone should be congratulated for that, it must be the players, as they are the ones that have performed," Wilmots continued, before revealing that his charges received a congratulatory message from the Belgian Royal Family. "King Filip called me after the match. That is something to be proud of."

Indeed, the team's resurgence has revived a fan base jaded by a series of disappointing campaigns. Matches are quickly sold out and most of the nation followed Friday's encounter on television. A few hundred supporters even congregated at Zaventem Airport after midnight to welcome their heroes home. Two-goal match winner Romelu Lukaku was the focus of much adulation.

"All week long I've had this match in my head," said the striker. "I wanted to be decisive, but the whole team are heroes tonight, not just me. After my first goal I ran to the fans, who came in great numbers again. It is also because of them that we stand where we are today."

The occasion also prompted Everton FC's on-loan Chelsea FC forward to recall his whereabouts the last time Belgium participated at the World Cup finals. "I was in the third grade," he said. "I remember we played against Brazil and we were allowed to watch the match at school."

Last updated: 08/05/14 2.51CET

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