Martinez encouraged by Belgium’s progress
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Belgium manager Roberto Martinez believes his team are just getting started as they prepare to face Portugal in the last-16 at Euro 2020 on Sunday.
The Red Devils came into the tournament as one of the favourites, having retained their ranking as the world’s number one side. Belgium proved their worth in Group B, beating Russia, Denmark and Finland with relative ease.
Martinez’s side are now unbeaten in 12 matches in all competitions, winning 10 of those encounters. His team’s fortunes have been boosted by the form of Romelu Lukaku, with the former Everton ace scoring 23 goals in 21 appearances since the end of the 2018 World Cup.
Lukaku has scored three goals so far in the tournament, but Belgium will need to keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet, the current top scorer in the competition.
The Juventus ace has found the back of the net on five occasions, while he will be supported by the likes of Diogo Jota, Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes.
Belgium have world-class talent within their ranks, with Lukaku teaming up alongside Thibaut Courtois, Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Youri Tielemans.
Even though Belgium could face the likes of Italy, France and Spain later in the tournament, Martinez says his team are making progress, and he is confident they can improve as the games come thick and fast.
Martinez told reporters: “We are getting stronger. I think in any tournament, you actually have two tournaments in one. One is the group stage, and you need to use those three games to make you better to get everyone ready. Then you have the knockout phases, which is a different tournament in itself.
“I think it is always important that everyone had their debut in the competition and got the emotion out of the way. Now, they are ready to help it in whatever way is needed, and I think that’s a big plus and a big factor. It is really rare that the team that starts the tournament for you is the one that finishes it.”
Neither Martinez or Portugal coach Fernando Santos have injury woes to contend with, but they will still face selection headaches with players desperate to feature.
Dries Mertens and Yannick Carrasco are likely to miss out for Belgium, with Eden Hazard and Thorgan Hazard set to continue out wide. Playmaker Tielemans is set to return to the fold after sitting on the bench against Finland in Belgium’s final Group B match.
Nelson Semedo should be able to feature for Portugal, despite suffering a muscle injury during the 2-2 draw with France. Danilo Pereira also suffered an injury during that battle, but the midfielder has trained ahead of Sunday’s game in Seville.
Should he recover in time, Manchester United’s Fernandes could well sit on the bench for a successive game, with Santos’ 4-3-3 formation working well against Les Blues.
Sunday’s meeting will be the first-ever major tournament clash between the pair, but Portugal are unbeaten in their last five matches against Belgium in all competitions.
Portugal come into the game as defending champions, having lifted the trophy at Euro 2016, but they will need to raise their game after only one win during the group stages, with Hungary unable to stop them from cruising to a 3-0 victory.