“The fear of losing” – Pressure in Belgium below normal
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Belgium are still not out of this World Cup, but Sunday’s loss to Morocco raised more questions about their aging squad. Even boss Roberto Martínez admitted that they have big problems.
For starters, two of their famous “golden generation” are only short-term players in Qatar, while another, Kevin de Bruyne, is not only struggling for form but seems to have lost his team’s chances of lifting the trophy
While De Bruyne struggles, Eden Hazard was only able to play here for an hour before being substituted, to avoid entering what Martinez calls the “red zone” of risking another injury.
Romelu Lukaku, Belgium’s key striker and record goalscorer, is also set for cameo appearances after his long-term thigh injury.
However, the most serious problems seem to be in the mentality of the team rather than in the treatment room.
While the victory Croatia Still set to send them through to the last 16 on Thursday, Martinez admitted his side are currently playing as if they are “scared of losing” rather than ready to win.
“I don’t see this enjoyment on the ball”
Belgiumwho scored 14 goals in six games en route to the World Cup semi-finals four years ago, have managed just one in their first two games here, in their first win against canada.
The Red Devils were bereft of counter ideas the moroccohe created little and allowed his rivals to grow in confidence, with the African side’s success celebrated noisily by thousands of their jubilant supporters in the stands.
There was a very different reaction to the result in Belgium, with angry fans taking to the streets of Brussels.
Asked about their disappointing display, Martinez attributed the lack of creativity to a lack of belief.
“This is a mentality, I don’t think it’s a lack of quality,” he explained. “We played a lot better with the ball than we did against Canada and got into really beneficial positions, but then the next pass was missing, that connection was missing in the final third.
“We didn’t find that spare man and I think it was because we played scared to lose.
“This is difficult to understand because in the last six years we are a team that always finds chances to score. We had scored goals in almost 50 games in a row, but here we did not find the back of the net and it cost us.
“The players work a lot with each other off the ball and then on the ball I don’t see that enjoyment and that’s what we have to work on. We have to be ourselves.
“We’re probably now in a situation where we have nothing left to lose [against Croatia].
“It’s something to win. It would be a real start for us in this World Cup because the talent is there and the quality in front of goal has always been there as one of the strengths of our team.”
“We haven’t been the best in Belgium yet”
Manchester City star De Bruyne will surely have his part to play in any revival for Belgium. But his pre-match comments that his team are “too old” to win this World Cup and that their best chance had been in 2018 are unlikely to help boost confidence in the squad.
Martinez, who claimed he had not heard those quotes before they were discussed in the post-match press conference, insisted they did not affect what happened at the Al Thumama Stadium.
“This is the first time I’ve heard this, so I imagine no one else was aware of these comments,” he said.
“I think when you ask a player something he is allowed to give his opinion, but I think we all have enough experience. We’ve known each other for six years and I don’t think comments like this will help us win. or keep us losing.
“I saw a language from the team [against Morocco] really focused and really healthy with each other, and working really hard.
“We haven’t been at our best in Belgium yet, I think it’s fair to say we weren’t at our best against Morocco.
“We have never lost our competitive advantage or the desire to get the result and take advantage of our experience, but we have not been ourselves on the ball.
“The whole team is playing with too much responsibility. We have to find our freedom and expression again.”
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