Tuesday 25 September 2018

Roberto Martinez: Belgium will rest and rotate against England

Free-scoring Belgium can let Romelu Lukaku recover from a knock and look forward to the last 16.

Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku took both his goals beautifully against Tunisia but limped off before the hour mark (Victor Caivano/AP)
Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku took both his goals beautifully against Tunisia but limped off before the hour mark (Victor Caivano/AP)

By Matt Slater, Press Association Chief Sports Reporter, Moscow

Belgium boss Roberto Martinez praised Romelu Lukaku for his “clinical” finishing in the 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia but then dropped a big hint that he would be rested for the Group G decider against England.

The Manchester United striker scored twice before limping off in the 59th minute, with Eden Hazard also getting a brace and Michy Batshuayi claiming the fifth.

Dylan Bronn gave Tunisia brief hope with a first-half header but Wahbi Khazri’s stoppage-time strike was only a consolation.

England needed a goal in added time to beat Tunisia in their opening game but the Red Devils had no such worries, tearing into the North African side from the start and creating chances at will.

They had 23 shots, 12 on target, and Batshuayi should have scored a hat-trick after coming on for Hazard with 20 minutes to play.

Speaking after the game, Martinez explained that Lukaku injured an ankle ligament, while Hazard strained his calf and Dries Mertens also hurt his ankle.

Asked if this meant there would be changes for the game against England in Kaliningrad on Thursday, Martinez said: “The answer is very clear: if we had seven days to prepare it would be the same starting XI.

“In international football, the reality now is we have qualified. There will be opportunities to give minutes to other players. There will be major changes against England.”

Lukaku’s first-half brace means he is tied with Ronaldo as the tournament’s top scorer on four goals. After scoring 27 times in his first season at Old Trafford, he has now reached 40 goals for Belgium.

After some criticism of his work-rate in the first game against Panama, not least from Hazard, Lukaku was superb at the Spartak Stadium and his manager was impressed.

“(Romelu) will try to score as many goals as he can but not at all costs,” he said. “I thought he was incisive, in the right position, in a confident mood. In front of goal he was as clinical as you might expect.”

The former Wigan and Everton boss was understandably pleased with the whole team’s showing, too, but said they can play even better.

“This was a game that suited our style, you have to give credit to Tunisia,” he said. “They wanted to win from the beginning, press high up. The credit that we deserve is that we took those opportunities well. We are still growing. With a two-goal lead we should have controlled the game a little bit better.”

These thoughts were echoed by Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen.

“It’s good to score five but I think the manager will point it out in the meeting that concentration is everything,” said Courtois.

Vertonghen said the big difference between this win and Belgium’s more laboured showing against Panama – and Tunisia’s tight match with England – was Tunisia’s approach.

“I didn’t see the Tunisia-England game but the fact they had to win meant that they tried to press us and that gave us the space we needed,” he said. “We’ve got the quality up front to take those chances.”

Tunisia’s coach Nabil Maaloul was despondent afterwards, although nobody could fault his players’ efforts on a hot and humid day in Moscow.

“As expected, it was a very difficult match,” Maaloul said.

“We would like to apologise to the Tunisian fans who were numerous in the stadium today. However, we did our best and we will try to improve our performance in the future.”

Press Association

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