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Belgium’s big brother

Van Buyten: We have nothing to lose

Daniel van Buyten often knocks on a few doors in the evening at the Belgium team hotel in Mogi das Cruzes. The FC Bayern veteran is keeping a watchful eye on his many inexperienced team-mates at the World Cup. “I’m like a big brother who talks to the young lads as much as possible,” said the 36-year-old. The exciting young Belgians are widely tipped as potential dark horses for the trophy, “so it could be a long tournament for us, and it’s not good if players carry things with them that might make them anxious,” the FCB centre-back commented.

Van Buyten speaks from experience. He is the only player in the Belgium squad who was also present the last time the Red Devils had a tilt at the biggest prize in football, in Japan and South Korea 12 years ago. “I often found myself sitting alone in my room,” the defensive colossus recalled, “I was nervous and worried.”

In his recently-published biography Big Dan, the model pro remembers: “The flight there was the first time I’d been in a big Boeing. I slept badly. I was very nervous. I didn’t play well and I was worried that my parents and wife would suffer from what was written about me in the Belgian papers. The stress was nearly the end of me.”

Opener against Algeria on Tuesday

Belgium have the second-youngest team in Brazil, and Van Buyten is seeking to use all his experience to help in the circumstances. “Some young players are afraid to take their problems to the coach because they fear they won’t play as a result. But they can always come to me. It remains our secret,” said the centre-back, who became the first-ever Belgian winner of the Champions League when FC Bayern claimed the European crown in 2013.

Expectations at home are running “very high. And we have very high expectations of ourselves too,” reported the 36-year-old prior to the Red Devils’ opener against Algeria on Tuesday at 6 pm CET in Belo Horizonte. “We’ve not been to the World Cup for 12 years. We can’t just come here and say we’re going to win it. We’re not in the same position as Germany. We have nothing to lose,” Van Buyten summarised. These will undoubtedly be the words some of the younger players hear when their big brother knocks on the bedroom door.