Belgium have grown, but Brazil are still favourites - Martinez
KAZAN, Russia - Roberto Martinez believes his Belgium side are as ready as they'll ever be to face one of the toughest challenges in football - a World Cup knockout match against mighty Brazil.
Martinez accepted that Belgium would be underdogs against the five-times world champions at Kazan Arena on Friday when they battle it out for a place in the semi-finals. Having won all three of their group matches in Russia and come back from two goals down to beat Japan in the last 16, however, he was convinced his players were primed for their task.
"It is a big occasion, you cannot hide it, if you try and hide it you are a little bit of a stupid person," the Spanish coach said. "But we’ve been working so hard to get ourselves to this occasion. We’ve grown into the tournament. There is something really special about this squad. The signs, they’ve been positive. There’s a real desire to be on the football pitch, we can’t wait to be there so I feel we are as ready as we’ll ever be."
The match, between two sides rich with world-class attacking talent, should be close but Martinez said one significant factor set Brazil apart. "The difference is that we haven’t won a World cup, it’s as simple as that," he added.
"When you go into a tournament and you haven’t got the know-how of winning a tournament you cannot have an advantage over the opponent. Brazil know how to win World Cups, they've done it more than any other country so they've got that psychological barrier out of the way. We need to respect them because of what they have achieved."
— FIFA World Cup 🏆 (@FIFAWorldCup) July 6, 2018
That respect was evident in the Spaniard's every utterance on Thursday but, while acknowledging the dangers presented by Brazil forward Neymar, Martinez was confident the skills of the likes of Eden Hazard would also be influential for Belgium.
"I think the individual talent is quite a big weapon for both teams," he said. "We rely on one-versus-one situations, we both rely on scoring goals, we rely on open-play football, we don’t rely on keeping clean sheets or trying to be defensively strong. Neymar is one of the biggest exponents of... decisive one-versus-one situations, so we’ll have to keep an eye on him and allow our players to have a bigger role in the game."
Martinez, who brushed aside a question linking him with the Spain managerial job, said one thing he would not have to do on Friday was find a way to motivate his team. "When you are in a World Cup quarter-final facing Brazil, you don't need extra motivation."