Martinez has an edge to prove Souness wrong

Irish Daily Mail - - World Cup 2018 - Philip Quinn @Quin­ner61

WHEN Graeme Souness was in Dublin the other day for the launch of Vir­gin Me­dia Tele­vi­sion (nee TV3), he was asked what he thought of Bel­gium as World Cup con­tenders un­der Roberto Martinez. At the men­tion of the lat­ter, Souness ges­tured with his hands the­atri­cally, as if mim­ick­ing Martinez on the touch­line. When it was pointed out that Thierry Henry was also on the coach­ing ticket, Souness raised an eye­brow and shrugged. Reading be­tween the lines, Souness ap­peared to sug­gest he was un­likely to thrive as a player un­der Martinez (below) and Henry. As a TV pun­dit and news­pa­per colum­nist, the Scot is a man of con­vic­tion and no-non­sense. But was he not be­ing a bit harsh on Roberto and Co? Maybe it’s a Bel­gian thing. As a na­tion, they tend to be un­der­es­ti­mated and un­no­ticed. It’s not that long ago where folk in pubs would stare into their drinks in si­lence when asked to name three fa­mous Bel­gians. Apart from Her­cule Poirot, Herge (cre­ator of Tintin) and Eddy Mer­ckyx, there weren’t too many. From an Ir­ish foot­ball per­spec­tive, there will al­ways be Bel­gian names which send a shud­der down the spine. In the 1982 World Cup qual­i­fiers, they de­feated Ire­land 1-0 in a crucial qual­i­fier in Brus­sels with a grand act of sport­ing lar­ceny that made Henry’s hand­ball in Paris seem in­no­cent in com­par­i­son. Watch­ing on TV, it seemed clear some­thing was rot­ten that night. Ire­land had a per­fectly good goal by Frank Sta­ple­ton dis­al­lowed and many 50-50 de­ci­sions went against Eoin Hand’s team. Deep into the sec­ond half, Eric Gerets did a Swan Lake im­pres­sion and won a free from which Jan Ceule­mans headed in the win­ner. It was a kick in the pri­vates as that Ir­ish team richly de­served a shot at the World Cup fi­nals, which a draw that night would have se­cured. In the ’82 fi­nals, Bel­gium made it to the sec­ond stage and four years later, they reached the semi-fi­nals, which re­mains their in­ter­na­tional high-point, so far. Could they go further in Rus­sia? A part of me hopes they do. For all the Bel­gians are daft about cy­cling, foot­ball isn’t far be­hind in the na­tional con­scious. While the ‘Red Devils’ have never won a ma­jor tour­na­ment, they trav­elled to Uruguay in 1930 when the World Cup be­gan, and they’ve con­tested 13 fi­nals out of 21. On Fri­day, Bel­gium play Brazil in the quar­ter­fi­nals of the World Cup in Kazan. Most ob­servers don’t give them a prayer, Souness among them, you’d sus­pect. Even in the wake of their thrilling 3-2 win over Ja­pan on Mon­day night, crit­ics were high­light­ing Bel­gium’s on-field crank­i­ness, and Kevin De Bruyne’s lack of in­flu­ence. But they carry a threat that will worry Brazil – they have goals in their locker. In their four games so far, they’ve scored 12 times, with eight dif­fer­ent scor­ers. One of them, Marouane Fel­laini, con­tin­ues to put him­self about with mus­cu­lar ef­fec­tive­ness in op­po­si­tion penalty ar­eas. Cru­cially, they also are pre­pared to gam­ble. Against Ja­pan, they launched that thrilling counter-at­tack in the fi­nal mo­ments of stop­page time, capped by Nacer Chadli’s goal. Would any­one else how have shown that courage? Most likely, they’d have shut up shop and taken an ex­tra half hour. But that is not the Martinez way. Ex­pect plenty of touch­line ges­tures again and, at the fi­nal whis­tle, he may have cause to cel­e­brate again.

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