Roberto Martinez has accused Belgian's media of doubling down on a dirty tricks campaign started by their French counterparts designed to divide his squad. Thibaut Courtois was also vowing to root out and banish the “mole” spreading stories about bust-ups in the Belgian camp.
The fall-out from Sunday’s tumultuous 2-0 defeat by Morocco was still being keenly felt as Belgium prepared for their decisive final Group F game against Croatia on Thursday, one they simply have to win to stay in the tournament and prevent this week’s inquest from turning into a longer, more painful post-mortem.
Kevin De Bruyne could not have imagined what he was starting when he said at the weekend, in advance of the Morocco match, that Belgium have “no chance” of winning the World Cup because they are “too old” and that their best chance came and went in Russia four years ago when they finished third.
Two days later, and just hours after that capitulation against Morocco when Eden Hazard had also waded into the age debate by admitting “our defenders are not the fastest and they know that”, a report in the French sports newspaper, L’Equipe, surfaced, since when all hell seems to have broken loose. The 35-year-old defender Jan Vertonghen was alleged to have confronted De Bruyne and Hazard over their remarks and only the intervention of Romelu Lukaku prevented the spat from turning ugly.
The Belgian squad convened a team meeting over a barbeque the next day to try to iron out their differences and, in further attempt to quell tensions, deflect the pressure and reapportion blame, Martinez went on the offensive on Wednesday with quite the conspiracy theory.
“There are many World Cups getting played and you could see maybe a country like France did a very good job with a story [in L’Equipe] that became the main topic of conversation in Belgium,” the Belgium coach said. “Whoever has come up with it has scored a great own goal for Belgium. If I’m an opponent and can weaken another side in the tournament I would do that as a journalist.”
Martinez was not done there, though, and rounded on the Belgian media for picking up the story and running with it in what felt like a rather desperate attempt to forge a siege mentality among a group that, as Castagne admitted, have not been as unified as they should be.
“We have some outlets in Belgium that are quite happy to jump on fake news,” Martinez fumed. “That’s quite astonishing. It showed you that there is maybe more desire to find negative news around this team than really get this nation together and enjoy the talent of the best generation we have ever had in Belgium football. And probably that was a lesson for all of us - that we are here on our own. I think it’s made the group more aware that the less you listen to the noise from the outside news the better."
Belgium World Cup 2022 squad
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet, Koen Casteels
Defenders: Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Wout Faes, Arthur Theate, Zeno Debast, Thomas Meunier, Timothy Castagne
Midfielders: Kevin De Bruyne, Youri Tielemans, Amadou Onana, Axel Witsel, Hans Vanaken, Leander Dendoncker, Yannick Carrasco, Thorgan Hazard
Forwards: Eden Hazard, Charles De Ketelaere, Leandro Trossard, Dries Mertens, Jeremy Doku, Romelu Lukaku, Michy Batshuayi, Lois Openda
Who is their best player?
Belgium’s stars include Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.
De Bruyne was awarded the player of the match accolade against Canada, but our readers rated goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as Belgium's best player during the game.
What are Belgium's results and fixtures?
November 23: Belgium 1 Canada 0
November 27: Belgium 0 Morocco 2
December 1: Croatia vs Belgium
What is Belgium’s World Cup record?
Belgium’s best World Cup finish came in the last edition of the tournament. They secured third place at Russia 2018 after beating England in the play-off, bettering their previous highest finish of fourth in 1986. Belgium first qualified for the tournament in 1930 and will compete in it for the 14th time this winter.
Argentina | Australia | Belgium | Brazil | Cameroon | Canada | Costa Rica | Croatia | Denmark | Ecuador | England | France | Germany | Ghana | Iran | Japan | Mexico | Morocco | Netherlands | Poland | Portugal | Qatar | Saudi Arabia | Senegal | Serbia | South Korea | Spain | Switzerland | Tunisia | Uruguay | USA | Wales
Belgium are currently a best price of 80/1 to win World Cup 2022.