Roberto Martinez was confident in front of the Belgian and international press on Monday, during the pre-match press conference. The latter came on the eve of the World Cup semi-final against France. The national coach in particular emphasised the “team” factor which he says is dominant, rather than various individuals in the team.
Martinez set out, “The semi-final is a unique opportunity for both the entire team and the whole of Belgium. We have the chance to translate our hard work over the last 10 to 15 years, so as to bring out the talents of our players.”
A journalist then asked him whether the team is in a position to change its attitude to play, after the victory against Brazil. His response: “I do not believe that we can take the pressure off.” He went on, “That cannot happen when we are playing a World Cup semi-final. France is a very similar team to Brazil in terms of individuals. When meeting such teams, you know you have to concentrate for a full 90 minutes.”
What will be key to winning the match? From the coach’s point of view, we must continue to rely upon the team’s main strength: the group factor. “Playing as a team enables our individual players to make a difference. I believe that we are very strong as a group. Up until now we have not given our individual players much in the way of sole responsibility.” He further drummed out, “Our efforts during the tournament have always been shared efforts. All of this has been key to our campaign in this World Cup.”
Martinez said, “This is a team which does not simply involve the addition of particular individuals.” He went on, “The players have almost sworn an oath to help each other to become better and in particular make the team perform better. That hasn’t happened overnight. We have had to work with the players but above all with the men, so that we share the same ambition. It has taken two years and we are now here to try to win a significant tournament.”
Three or four players in defence? Martinez did not reveal his exact plans but gave a few indications for Tuesday’s match. “Playing four proves easier but the strategy of three defenders gives good control and is well-suited to our players. However there are some matches where we need to play with four at the back to provide a more solid “wall”. We needed this against Brazil and the last few minutes against Japan.”
He added, “The team’s major quality is being able to make such a change when it needs to. Given the little time that we have to prepare for a match, it is very satisfying for a coach.”
Although he spoke a lot about the group, Martinez did not avoid more specific questions about the players or team staff members. He thus spoke highly of Kevin De Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini and even Thierry Henry.
At the end of the press conference, Martinez even winked at the former coach Marc Wilmots. “When you are a new coach, you try to improve on what the previous coach has achieved, whilst also basing your judgement upon what he has built for the team. We are pleased to have been able to give him [Wilmots] a revenge match. We beat Brazil against whom a valuable goal by him was disallowed when he was a player (NDLR: World Cup, 2002).”