Belgium manager Roberto Martinez says it’s fundamental his side play without fear against neigbours France in their World Cup semifinal clash on Tuesday, ESPN says.
Martinez’s Red Devils swept aside tournament favourites Brazil in the quarterfinals on Friday, setting up a mouth-watering matchup with Les Bleus in St. Petersburg this week.
Belgium ran at the five-time world champions with a devastating counter-attack in their 2-1 win, and Martinez told ESPN’s Fernando Palomo and Gaby Ruiz on Sunday that his side will require the same sort of bravery against the French.
“Undoubtedly so. This group has to play with no fear at all. If we approach this match with fear within us, we will bring ourselves down and we’d be able to do so much less than what we can actually do,” said Martinez.
“To play without fear would probably be the one thing which would help us the most.”
In addition to playing a fearless match, the former Everton boss pinpointed the importance of a collective display from a side in which many of its players have been together with the national side for years.
“There are two very important phases. You must want to become a whole team from Day 1. I believe that, in order to win a championship, you must play, collectively, as a team,” he said. “When we were able to achieve that, there was an interest from each player to put all individual interests aside.”
Belgium put a plan in place to develop young footballing talent in the country more than a decade ago, with the current crop of senior players seen as the fruits of that labour.
Asked how much this “Golden Generation” can accomplish, Martinez said: “It is important for everyone to understand that Belgium has a population of 11 million and that the current generation of players did not happen by accident. There is a very clear structure within professional football in Belgium.
“Belgium is a country focused on developing its young talent. We can only be ourselves and we already have time to use this World Cup as an advantage with the newest generations.”
In the generation’s immediate future is Belgium’s first semifinal since 1986. Martinez confided he doesn’t think he’s “able to describe what this means for the country” but promised his team’s full focus is on France.
Didier Deschamps’ side, led by rising star Kylian Mbappe, has looked impressive at times in the knockout stage. Martinez added he reckons the St. Petersburg stadium will see a battle of “very similar nations” on Tuesday.
And on the topic of stopping Mbappe, who scored twice in France’s 4-3 round-of-16 victory over Argentina, and Les Bleus blistering counter-attack, Martinez said: “That’s a very tough thing to do.
“I don’t think there’s an easy answer for that because Mbappe is an exceptional player under those circumstances.”
The Monaco forward has often been compared to former France international Thierry Henry, who now serves as an assistant coach with Belgium. The Arsenal legend was part of the 1998 France side that won the tournament on home soil, and Martinez hailed his influence on his ambitious squad.
He said: “Thierry is someone who lives for football. He’s a very, very special guy. He brings to the table his experience as winner of a World Cup… that’s golden for you to have.”
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