The boastful Belgium national team has one last chance to extend the final Globalism The trophy is together this week after collapsing against Morocco, with coach Roberto Martinez and his players under increasing pressure.
Anything other than a win over Croatia on Thursday could send the world’s second-ranked team home after the group stage.
Kevin De Bruyne said in an interview with The Guardian before the 2-0 loss to Morocco that his team was “too old” and had “no chance” of winning the World Cup.
Martinez insisted after the match that it may have been a ‘double-trick’ from the Manchester City star, but if he was serious it would be hard to disagree based on their performance in Qatar so far.
Spaniard Martinez has largely stuck with experienced players who have reached at least the quarter-finals in each of the past four Grand Slams.
In the match against Morocco and the happy 1-0 win over Canada, Belgium were outclassed and presented no real threat going forward.
The absence of record goalscorer Romelu Lukaku through injury was a major blow, but even his late introduction against Morocco was born of desperation and the Inter Milan player offered little.
The past six years have provided the best spell for continued success in Belgium’s history, with a third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup in Russia the closest the current team has come to lifting a major title.
Ten of the 14 players who participated in the semi-final loss to champions France four years ago are still in the squad.
Seven of the starting line-up against Morocco are in their 30s – Thibaut Courtois, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Meunier, Axel Witsel, De Bruyne and captain Eden Hazard.
The Red Devils’ attacking style of play disappeared after they qualified undefeated.
The Belgian press was highly critical of the team, with the HLN website saying “there must be fresh blood”.
‘Nothing to lose’
Martinez believes being at last chance will bring out the best in his aging team.
He said, “In the last match, we have to play in order to win it, as if we have nothing to lose.”
“If we beat Croatia we are (still) in the World Cup and that’s a great motivation.”
And on the eve of Morocco’s defeat, Hazard also said he believed Belgium’s best chance of winning the world championship was and was gone.
There were rumors of disharmony in the team, with Vertonghen appearing to sarcastically lash out at the 31-year-old De Bruyne’s comments.
“A lot of things are on my mind right now, but it’s better not to say these things on camera,” he told TV station Sporza.
“Maybe we also attack too hard because the players (attackers) are very old.”
Martínez admitted that his players were playing “without joy” and “afraid of losing”, but left many bright young talents on the bench.
Brighton’s Leandro Trossard, who has scored seven goals for Brighton in the Premier League this season, only appeared as a second-half substitute against Canada and Morocco.
Hazard started both games, but remains the player he was before he left Chelsea for Real Madrid in 2019.
Veterans Vertonghen and Alderweireld, who now play for their club with Anderlecht and Antwerp respectively, are preferred over in-form Leicester centre-backs Wott Weiss and Arthur Theit.
The 33-year-old Vetsel struggled in both matches, but players Youri Tielemans and Amadou Onana are yet to unite in midfield.
Martinez indicated he would not make sweeping changes and said he only pulled Hazard after the hour mark on Sunday – for 35-year-old Dries Mertens – to keep him fresh for the challenges ahead.
Lose on Thursday, and it would be the end of an era for Belgian football.
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