Former Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez told his players he would be leaving after the World Cup following their shock defeat by Morocco – a result he admits “will haunt for me a long time”.
Semi-finalists in 2018, the world’s second-ranked side suffered a surprise group-stage elimination in Qatar after finishing third in Group F.
The Red Devils struggled past Canada in their opening game before suffering a 2-0 defeat against Morocco, while their premature exit was confirmed by a goalless stalemate with Croatia.
It brought the curtain down on a poor tournament that also saw Martinez and several players forced to dismiss reports of a rift within the squad.
The Spaniard, who subsequently stepped down after six years in the role, also denied rumours of any friction within the camp in his first interview since departing.
“It’s the match against Morocco that will haunt me for a long time,” he said. “We weren’t ourselves. A bit like against Canada by the way. We were not in the state to win these games.
“Against Croatia, it was different. We are probably the team that created the most chances against the Croatians. You won’t find any tactical or technical expert who can explain to you why we didn’t score in the last half hour. A matter of millimetres.
“I told the group after the defeat against Morocco that I would stop after the World Cup in Qatar.
“In a way, everyone knew that the match against Croatia could be the last. I would have liked to say goodbye on December 19 [the day after the final].
“Fake news has grown in importance. When L’Equipe writes that Jan Vertonghen and Eden Hazard had fallen out, the group had the impression that all the media were jumping on the information.
“So, we decided to distance ourselves from the outside world. The core wanted to show that the group is solid. And from that moment on, you saw another team. It made us stronger. How many percent of what L’Equipe said was true? Zero, nothing, nada.”
We Mich you a Julie New Year!pic.twitter.com/3lhYNV1v6Y
— Royal Belgian FA (@RoyalBelgianFA) December 31, 2022
Martinez felt Belgium’s lack of preparation was also a factor in their poor performance in Qatar, with a 2-1 defeat against Egypt representing the only friendly the Red Devils played before the tournament commenced.
But the 49-year-old has fond memories of their run to the semi-finals in Russia four years earlier, including the homecoming parade in Brussels.
“In 2018, we had three warm-up matches. Not this time,” Martinez added.
“Several countries used this group stage as preparation. That was the price to pay for a tournament in the winter. Unfortunately, we needed two games to be ready.
“In 2018, I already felt at the airport [before the finals] that the team was ready – emotionally and tactically.
“Here, I only felt that two days before the game against Croatia. After the match against Egypt, I felt that we were not ready. Nothing was rolling for us.
“On the Grand Place in Brussels. I cherish that image from 2018 for life, it is burned on my retina. It will encourage me to keep working in football.”
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