Moscow (AFP) – Belgium are likely to rest midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne and possibly striker Romelu Lukaku for their last World Cup group match against England, coach Roberto Martinez said Monday.
With both England and Belgium through to the last 16, Martinez admitted the sting had gone out of Thursday’s clash in Kaliningrad, describing it as “almost a celebration” for both sides.
“It’s different. If we’d been facing each other to qualify for the World Cup knock-out phase it would have been a lot more emotional,” the Spaniard said.
“It’s a game that we can celebrate and enjoy. There’s a lot of sensations in both camps and both nations going into the knock-out phase.
“So I don’t think the game will be emotional in that respect. I think it’ll be almost a celebration.”
With that in mind, Martinez said he was unlikely to field any players who have a yellow card in case they picked up another and are disqualified from the round of 16.
“It would be risky and a real gamble to play any of the players who have yellow cards because you don’t want a player missing in the knock-out stage,” he said.
Manchester City’s De Bruyne is one of three Belgium players on a yellow, along with Thomas Meunier and Jan Verthongen.
Martinez also cast doubt on in-form striker Lukaku’s participation after he picked up an ankle knock in Belgium’s most recent match against Tunisia.
He said a scan showed no major damage but more time was needed to assess the Manchester United forward, who has scored twice in each of his two outings in Russia.
Lukaku’s four goals place him level with Cristiano Ronaldo and one behind England’s Harry Kane in the race for the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer.
Martinez said Kane’s form came as no surprise because he knew the Tottenham man was ready to take on leadership duties in the England camp.
“It’s like a test for us, if you can keep a player like Harry Kane form scoring then you’re keeping your focus and doing your defensive work well,” he said.
The match will decide who tops Group G and Martinez dismissed the possibility Belgium could take it easy in order to place second and face an “easier” opponent in the knock-out phase.
“Every game we want to win, I don’t think as a professional you can go on a pitch without wanting to win,” he said.
“We’re looking to do well and make ourselves stronger as a squad against England.”
Martinez predicted an entertaining encounter in Kaliningrad.
“I think it’s going to be an open game,” he said.
“Both teams will try to press each other very high and try to win the ball and dictate play.
“You’re not going to see a team sitting back and allowing the opposition to play.”