Roberto Martinez insists already-qualified Belgium won’t ease up against Wales

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Roberto Martinez has told Wales that Belgium’s standards will not slip in Cardiff despite World Cup qualification having already been achieved.

Belgium clinched top spot in Group E on Saturday by beating Estonia 3-1.

The Red Devils are without several familiar faces on Tuesday – among them Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and Youri Tielemans – as Wales attempt to finish above the Czech Republic in second place.

Belgium Estonia WCup 2022 Soccer
Belgium players celebrate during the 3-1 win over Estonia on Saturday, which booked their place at the 2022 World Cup (Olivier Matthys/AP)

Wales are already guaranteed a World Cup play-off spot in March, but a positive result against Belgium could secure semi-final home advantage.

Martinez said: “This is a qualification game and that means it is important for us.

“We are the number one ranked team in the world and with qualification games there are points to be won.

“You look at the three qualification campaigns for major tournaments we have had (since Martinez’s appointment in August 2016) and it is 27 games.

“We have had 25 victories and two draws and we want to carry on with those standards.

“And then we’ve got an opportunity to see other players that have been impressive.

“They will get the opportunity, so for Belgian football it is a very important game.

“We want to win, play well and see players with less experience come through into the squad 12 months before the World Cup.”

Martinez spent three years in Wales as a Swansea player between 2003 and 2006.

The Spaniard returned to the club in 2007 for a successful two-year spell in the dugout as he embarked on a managerial career which took him to Wigan and Everton before Belgium.

Martinez said: “For my personal attachment, I do want Wales to do well, but it’s important we have integrity towards the competition.

“I must admit I’m very, very happy the Czech Republic and Wales are in the play-offs whatever happens. It’s a reflection of their good work.

“We want to win and we will make sure we go full on and just wish Welsh football well.

Soccer – FA Cup – Fifth Round – Swansea City v Fulham – Liberty Stadium
Roberto Martinez began his managerial career at Swansea in 2007 (Nick Potts/PA)

“Wales is a team that’s got a strong backbone with familiar names like Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey, but always very confident, technically trying to impose themselves and playing at home… You saw it in the Euros qualifying, it was an impressive period.

“It’s a team that has mixture of experience and the environment of a full crowd after a Covid period makes a big difference.”

Wales have enjoyed success over Belgium in the past decade, beating them 1-0 in Euro 2016 qualifying in Cardiff and 3-1 in the quarter-final of the tournament itself.

Wales v Belgium – UEFA Euro 2016 – Quarter Final – Stade Pierre Mauroy
Axel Witsel (right) was part of the Belgium side beaten by Wales in the quarter-final of Euro 2016 (Joe Giddens/PA)

Borussia Dortmund midfielder Axel Witsel played in both of those defeats for Belgium and said: “It’s true, all the times we have played Wales it’s never been an easy game.

“When you think about Wales, we remember 2016 in the quarter-final and it will be the same again.

“We have qualified and we have nothing to play for but we are preparing for the World Cup.

“They need a point for the play-offs (home advantage) so it will not be easy.”

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