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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Roberto Martinez: Belgium's star squad led by De Bruyne, Hazard and Lukaku cannot win World Cup on talent alone

The side's coach warns players must train hard and continue to improve if they are to have a chance of triumphing in Russia.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez wants his side to continue to work hard ahead of the World Cup. Francois Lenoir / Reuters
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez wants his side to continue to work hard ahead of the World Cup. Francois Lenoir / Reuters

On the eve of Tuesday’s friendly clash with Saudi Arabia, Belgian coach Roberto Martinez warned his talented squad that the World Cup does not respect Golden Generations and that if they want to make history this summer in Russia, the route to success is not through talent and reputation but training and respect.

With a squad containing the likes of Eden Hazard, Toby Alderweireld, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne, expectations are high for Martinez's side going into the month-long tournament, which kicks off on June 14.

Belgium's best performance on the game's biggest stage came in 1986 when they finished fourth after losing to Diego Maradona's Argentina in the semi-finals and they were quarter-finalists four years ago.

With the World Cup just 80 days away, Martinez's preparations are well underway and he insisted he will be giving game-time to as many of his squad as possible against Saudi at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels.

The Spanish coach, however, played down the idea that the current crop can take a victory for granted and that they have a inherent right to win anything.

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“I think you understand that when preparing for a World Cup, World Cups don’t respect generations or talent. They respect winning teams and teams that are prepared to work very hard together to become winning teams. That’s what we are,” said Martinez, the former Everton manager.

“We don’t look any further than trying to prepare the players in the best manner possible and this camp is taking us further on our journey towards achieving that. But before the World Cup we have to achieve the mentality of being as good as we can.

"We have many talented individuals, but we do not rely on that; we think only about working hard, improving constantly and making everyone very proud of this group of players.”

Martinez insisted that while he will be treating the match against Saudi with respect, the result is irrelevant as he seeks to focus on attitudes and move closer to finalising the 21-man squad that will compete against Panama, England and Tunisia in Group G.

“Is the game important towards the final 21? Yes, 100 per cent. But will any decision be final? No,” he replied, when asked if a good performance against Saudi Arabia could secure a seat on the plane.

“It is a game where I want to see good attitudes, good performances. It’s not about the final score, it’s the basics of the game. We won’t be making a statement, it’s simply to wrap-up a camp that will leave us feeling very well.”

Eden Hazard, meanwhile, said he believes the experience gained at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where Belgium were eliminated in the quarter-finals — again by Argentina — will stand his team in good stead to go further this year, insisting the goal is to lift the trophy.

“Four years ago was the first World Cup for most of the players,” said the Chelsea attacker. “Now we have that experience so we know what to do. We all now have one target, which is to go to the final, so we’ll see what happens.”