Saturday 19 January 2019

Martinez to rest a number of players as he prioritises bigger challenges

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez. Photo: Getty Images
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez. Photo: Getty Images

Matt Law

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez has claimed beating England and winning Group G is not his priority ahead of tonight's clash in Kaliningrad.

England are leading Group G thanks to their superior disciplinary record, but Martinez is not sending his side out under orders to overhaul them.

Martinez has promised major changes to his team, although Eden Hazard is desperate to start, and does not think the result is the most important thing for Belgium.

Romelu Lukaku will not be risked, and Martinez has confirmed that all players on a yellow card, Jan Vertonghen, Kevin De Bruyne and Thomas Meunier, will not play.

While Gareth Southgate, the England manager, has insisted his much-changed team will be sent out to win, Martinez said: "Well, we are qualified. That was the priority. Now we need to look at individual players. We want to play well, but the priority is not to win.

"We have players on yellow cards, so it is not professional to play those players and risk them missing the next round. Other players had demanding games in Moscow and Sochi, so it is very important to have all the players in the best possible condition.

"I said I believed in every player in the squad, so it would be quite stupid not to believe in these players. They have earned the chance to play, so this is a good opportunity for us to grow. At the final whistle we want a good performance. That's our priority, it is not just to win."

The pair may not meet tonight but Belgium defender Thomas Vermaelen has hailed England captain Harry Kane as "a complete striker".

"What he has done in the league - of course I can only judge by seeing him on TV - he has scored a lot of goals and been very important for Tottenham and the English national team as well," Vermaelen said, during Belgium's pre-match press conference.

"He is a complete striker. He is strong, he scores goals. For me, he is a world-class striker."

Asked about England in the tournament so far, Vermaelen added: "I am not really surprised.

"They are a young and talented team. I expect them to go far in this tournament."

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez said that striker Lukaku's ankle problem was "still uncomfortable".

"We had very good news on the scan. There was no further damage, but it is still uncomfortable," Martinez said.

"I don't think he will be training today, and I think we will make a final assessment tonight in order for him to be involved or not.

"At the moment, it is still in recovery phase.

"He had a really difficult knock against Tunisia, and probably tomorrow is one day too early, the game, but I don't think it is going to take any longer than that."

Martinez was asked whether there were any similarities between tonight's game and the Italia '90 World Cup last-16 match that England won in extra time with a David Platt volley.

He said: "Italia '90 brought a lot of pain to Belgium and the fans. This is different. That was a knockout game and this is a celebration game. There are a lot of links between the teams, a lot of the players share the same dressing-rooms.

"It would have been very different, though, if Harry Kane had not scored that late goal versus Tunisia.

"Now the two teams can enjoy qualifying for the second stage."

© Daily Telegraph, London

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