By Samindra Kunti in Munich
July 5 – Belgium’s golden generation is on its last legs with the future of coach Roberto Martinez in doubt after his team crashed out of Euro 2020 in a 2-1 high-octane quarter-final defeat against Italy.
The Italians know how to win and through sheer class and old-school game management they saw off a Belgian side that was ultimately underwhelming after a slow group stage and a laboured victory against Portugal.
Kevin De Bruyne was not fit and Eden Hazard watched on from the stands. Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini kept Romelu Lukaku quiet. Lukaku converted a penalty on the stroke of half-time but should have done better on two occasions in the second half.
“Football can be cruel at times but it was two teams with 14 straight wins in the Euros and the record had to break somewhere,” said Martinez. “The margins were small and they went against us. We have to move on and grow from this experience.”
In 2016, the Spaniard succeeded Marc Wilmots and led Belgium to the bronze medal at the World Cup three years ago, but his fabled team failed at Euro 2020. They had aimed for the sky, but exited in the last eight. The team played in a low block, a way to protect the aging defense from having to cover the space in behind a high line. Martinez had little other choice, but the result was a lean and economic game that often felt counterintuitive. In the immediate aftermath of the defeat, Martinez left his future in doubt.
“This is a moment when it is very difficult to speak about anything else than the defeat and we are out of the Euros,” said Martinez at a news conference after the match. “It is still too raw and I don’t want to say anything that could be emotional. Now is time to analyse and assess but at the moment the feelings are of disappointment and sadness. That is what is in my head now.”
He however cancelled a news conference the day after Belgium’s exit, fueling speculation over his future after his statements in Munich. Martinez is also Belgium’s technical director, a role he took up last year when he extended his contract with the Red Devils until next year’s World Cup. Peter Bossaert, the CEO of the Belgian FA, however told local media that he is confident Martinez will stay on.
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