Roberto Martinez has blasted the Belgian media for coverage of a “genius” French-based report detailing supposed unrest in the Belgium camp ahead of a huge World Cup match against Croatia.
Belgium lost 2-0 to Morocco in their second Group F game and must now defeat the 2018 finalists to be sure of advancing to the knockout stage.
The Red Devils’ preparation for that fixture has been hampered this week by discussion of a rift within the team, first reported by RTL and L’Equipe.
Belgium’s players subsequently came together for a meeting – “it wasn’t a crisis meeting, as we might have heard from some quarters,” insisted Timothy Castagne – as they aim to “show more solidarity” against Croatia.
Castagne added the reports had “exaggerated a lot” and he had “seen worse”, before Martinez, appearing after the defender at a pre-match news conference, suggested his team now knew they were in Qatar “on our own”.
“For us, nothing changes. The standards come from within,” the coach said.
“We were not happy with our two performances. We got the result in the first game, but we were not happy with our performance.
“The second game was the first time we lost a game by two goals in a major tournament. You can imagine we were not happy with it. We had to react.
“Then you see the storm on the outside and realise maybe we were listening too much to the noise on the outside before the tournament.
: “We will give everything tomorrow for ourselves and for the country.”
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils)
“You have some outlets in Belgium who are quite happy to jump on fake news. That’s quite astonishing. It’s made the group quite aware that the least you listen to the noise from outside the better.
“It’s the biggest sporting event in the world, and you can see there are many World Cups being played. Maybe a country like France did a very good job with a story that became the main talking point of some outlets.
“There is more desire to find negative news around this team, rather than getting the nation together, supporting this team, enjoying the talent of the best generation we ever had in Belgian football.
“Probably that was a lesson for all of us: we are here on our own. We are here to fight for what we believe. Hopefully the fans, the real fans of the Red Devils, can enjoy the process.”
Pressed on his suggestion the story had come out of France and been intended to hurt Belgium, Martinez replied: “I’ve got too many things to do in camp to think about where this story comes.
“What is clear is whoever came up with it, whoever has done it has scored a great goal, an own goal for Belgium.
“If I’m an opposition and I can weaken another side and get them out of the World Cup, I would do that as a journalist, I would love to win my own World Cup. Whoever’s done it is genius.”
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said his side would not be “fooled” by the reports around the Belgium team, adding: “I don’t have an opinion on them and what’s happening there.
“They are the second-best team in the world. That’s all I care about. We are not focusing on any other aspects. We are focusing on Belgium, their quality.
“They cannot forget overnight how to play football. They are a top-notch team. They’re number two, and we’re number 12.”