Belgium's Martinez found wanting for answers

ID : N-2321 Date : 2018/07/11 - 10:19

(Persia Digest) - The Guardian writes that Belgian TV had a camera on Roberto Martínez during the quarter-final epic against Brazil and it showed a manager at fever pitch. The adrenaline coursed his system as he tried to coach his players through the game, having made radical tactical changes. “Hopefully, I will be calmer against France,” Martínez had said with a smile on Monday.

The Spaniard was calmer but this was not what he had in mind. On the biggest night of his managerial career and in what was only Belgium’s second World Cup semi-final, there was a strange absence of tempo; a lack of the cut and thrust that has marked his team out as the great entertainers of the tournament.

Martínez’s switch to 4-3-3 and a false 9 had thrown Brazil, paving the way for a glorious triumph, but little came off for him here, although it was not for the want of trying. Martínez tried everything, interchanging from one system to another and throwing on attacking substitutes. The attempt to categorise his formations was a prominent subplot. After an encouraging start, his team faded. He could not get the traction. The final action was not there.

This was Belgium’s big opportunity; the moment to make history by reaching a first World Cup final. For many years the squad have been tracked by talk of a golden generation and several members of Martínez’s squad had made it plain that they were here to lift the trophy. Nothing else. But in the end, they were stifled and the manager did not have the answers.

The overall impression was of a defeat against more streetwise opposition. Belgium had lost meekly against Argentina at the last World Cup then blew up against Wales at Euro 2016. This exit hurt more because they were older and wiser. For the first time in 25 matches, they had tasted defeat. It will take some time to get over.

It has been easy to portray Martínez as a gambler, a manager who raises the stakes through moves at one end of the field and one end only, and a single detail summed it up. In his 23-man squad he had only one specialist full-back – Thomas Meunier, and the Paris Saint‑Germain player was suspended here. The loss of one player, albeit a key one, was sufficient to prompt a case of square pegs and round holes.

Until kick-off, nobody could say for sure how Belgium would line up, with the Fifa feed saying that Kevin De Bruyne would start at left wing-back. That was never going to happen. What Martínez did do was play Nacer Chadli at right-back and Jan Vertonghen at left-back – in other words, away from their natural positions.

Martínez started with a back four as he had done against Brazil, which was a diversion from type. Before Brazil, he had placed his faith in a three‑man defence. France were settled and consistent whereas Belgium seemed edgy, unpredictable.

Martínez’s approach was incredibly fluid. Who would have seen Marouane Fellaini as the No 10? That was where he started, although he worked to the left of centre and dropped back when France had the ball. When Chadli pushed forward, it looked as though Belgium had a back three. De Bruyne, starting off the right – his third different role in three games – had the licence to drift inside; all the way over to the other flank at times. It was total Martínez.

M artínez and Belgium sought to make the game; to press on to the front foot whereas France sat deep, looking to exploit the electric pace and movement of Kylian Mbappé. It was strange to note the sluggishness of the tempo for long spells – and the flatness of the atmosphere. It was not how Martínez wanted it.

De Bruyne whipped in some nice balls and Belgium did advertise an opening goal. Eden Hazard flickered. The tie would have taken on a different complexion had Hugo Lloris not stretched to tip away Toby Alderweireld’s shot. But against such canny opposition, balance was key. Belgium had to keep the back door shut and it was a bad sign that, despite their first‑half ascendancy, it was France who created the biggest chance before the interval when Thibaut Courtois saved from Benjamin Pavard.

Martínez dreaded the defensive lapse. The truth was that it seemed likelier to come from one of his players. Fellaini’s reaction to Samuel Umtiti’s goal said it all. He knew that he had allowed the France defender to get the run on him. Martínez continued to twist; to search for fresh attacking angles. Dries Mertens replaced the ineffective Mousa Dembélé and worked off the right while Yannick Carrasco was introduced on the other side.

Martínez even chucked on an extra striker, Michy Batshuayi, at the bitter end. Nothing made a difference, with the symbol of Belgium’s toils being Romelu Lukaku. The No 9 could find no space. He was suffocated. Belgium had hit the wall.

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