‘It’s emotional’: Roberto Martínez quits as Belgium coach after World Cup exit

<span>Photograph: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Roberto Martínez has announced his departure as Belgium’s head coach after their group-stage exit at the World Cup. Belgium’s failure to beat Croatia in their final Group F match led Martínez to confirm his exit after more than six years in charge.

Martínez insisted he was proud of his legacy despite his failure to achieve with the so-called golden generation, with Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne among the players who may never return to this stage.

Related: Belgium crash out of World Cup as Lukaku’s misses let Croatia off hook

Romelu Lukaku missed a series of chances to earn victory and a place in the last 16, including a glaring opportunity in second-half stoppage time. Martínez guided Belgium to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, where they were defeated by the eventual winners, France. Despite a winning start against Canada in Qatar, a shock defeat by Morocco and a goalless draw against Croatia led to Belgium’s humbling exit.

Martínez hugged his players after the final whistle in Doha. “That was my last game with the national team and it’s emotional as you can imagine,” he said. “It was going to be the end whether we were world champions or out in the group stage. It has nothing to do with being eliminated at this stage. This is the time for me to accept that this day is the last game.”

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Asked to clarify when he made his decision, Martínez said: “I took the decision just before the World Cup. I always work in the long term. I believe the long-term projects need to be long term and they need to be set in advance. As you can imagine, since 2018 I have had many opportunities to leave and take jobs at club level. I always wanted to be loyal, I always wanted to finish the job and now I don’t resign, this is the end of my contract. This was always the plan.”

Related: Croatia 0-0 Belgium: World Cup 2022 – as it happened

Martínez said defeat by Morocco was behind their downfall. “When you come to the World Cup, you have to play three games and we only played one,” he said. “The first two games, we were fearful, we were not the team that we are, we listened to the noise on the outside and we were feeling the responsibility.

“We played thinking that we could lose the game and that we could be out and that’s what cost us progressing. If we had gone through, I think we would have seen the real Belgium and we could have been very competitive.”