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Belgium's Stay Could Be Fast Drawing to a Close

June 11, 2002|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Belgium tied Tunisia, 1-1, in a World Cup match Monday in Oita, Japan, life proceeding as usual here. Ronaldo scores, Argentina fouls, Ireland never quits, Brad Friedel saves the Americans' bacon and Belgium ties.

That's five tied World Cup matches in a row for Belgium, which didn't see a game it couldn't draw in 1998. In France four years ago, the Belgians tied the Netherlands, Mexico and South Korea, completing the very rare and difficult trick of going undefeated in the first round and failing to qualify for the second.

Belgium has played two more World Cup matches in Japan, and tied those--2-2 against Japan before Monday's draw against Tunisia.

Even when it comes to soccer politics, when Belgium campaigned aggressively to host the 2000 European championships, it wound up splitting the vote and sharing the competition with the Netherlands. Another tie.

Too much of anything, however, is never good, and for the second time in as many World Cups, Belgium is poised to be eliminated without having lost a match. With two points in two matches, Belgium enters its final group game against Russia two points behind Japan (1-0-1) and one behind Russia (1-1-0).

This time, Belgium took the lead in the 13th minute, on a goal by captain Marc Wilmots, only to watch Tunisia score four minutes later on 30-yard free kick by Raouf Bouzaiane.

"I am not really happy," Belgium Coach Robert Waseige said, "because everybody probably felt that it would be easy to play Tunisia, but that was not true....

"We always have problems against smaller nations and Tunisia is a smaller nation.... Belgium has always played better when we have not been the favorites."

With the draw, Tunisia (0-1-1) still can qualify for the next round with a victory over Japan Friday. Tunisian defender Hatem Trabelsi, however, believes such as task is beyond the reach of his team.

"Japan [is] the strongest team in the group and the favorite," he said. "Tunisia can't win the match against Japan. It is too difficult for us. We only try to make it a good match."

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