Moscow (AFP) – Belgium coach Roberto Martinez revealed Friday he has been keeping one eye on next week’s blockbuster clash with England in the lead-up to the Red Devils’ Group G match against Tunisia.
Barring major upsets, the June 28 tie against Gareth Southgate’s men in Kaliningrad will decide who tops the group and Martinez was wary of England’s threat.
He indicated Belgium will be particularly vigilant during set-pieces, noting that 60 percent of goals at the tournament so far had come from dead-ball situations, including both of Harry Kane’s strikes in England’s 2-1 win over Tunisia.
“England are very strong in dead-ball situations,” he said.
“They use a lot of bodies, up to six in the box and they’ve got fantastic movement and fantastic delivery.”
But Martinez was not allowing the England match to distract him from his immediate priority in Moscow on Saturday against Tunisia, a team he picked as a potential surprise package ahead of the tournament.
“We respect Tunisia’s threat but they’re a team that need to come out and win the game, so they’ll make it very, very open,” he said.
“In that respect, if we look after our performance we’ll get settled into that sort of game.”
Belgium are ranked third in the world, behind only Germany and Brazil, but Martinez said there was no room for complacency against Tunisian, ranked 21.
“This team has really high-tempo play, they’ll try and find players running behind, use good speed,” he said.
“It’s a team that forces you to concentrate every second.
“But we need to be ourselves. I’m looking at how we can improve on how we played against Panama.”
The Red Devils’ best run at a World Cup is third place in 1986 but they are regarded as dark horses for the title in Russia.
It is possibly the last chance to shine on the world stage for a “golden generation” of Belgian talent, including Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens.
While Martinez said many of his players were “at a good stage in their careers”, he played down the golden generation tag, saying Belgium had achieved nothing yet in Russia.
“The World Cup does not respect generations, the World Cup doesn’t respect individual names, it only respects winning teams,” he said.
Martinez added that Kompany and fellow defender Thomas Vermaelen were “medically ready” after suffering injuries, but lack the match fitness to start against Tunisia.
Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul said his young squad were nervous in their first appearance on the World Cup stage against England but they would be more confident against Belgium.
“Our team is capable of unlocking the Belgium defence… perhaps the sense of fear will be absent tomorrow and we will be able to deliver,” he said.