Roberto Martinez produced one of such coaching performances that makes him so respected as his Belgium side downed Brazil in the second quarter final game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia at the Kazan Arena on Friday night.
Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho, starting only due to Casemiro’s suspension inadvertently headed into his own goal to give Belgium the lead before his club mate, Kevin De Bryune, playing in a more forward role for the first time in the tournament scored a trademark long range effort to give the Red Devils a 2-0 lead. Renato Augusto headed home for Brazil fifteen minutes from time but the Seleçao could ultimately not find a leveller.
Much of the post-match talks in Kazan was about how Belgium managed to outwit the five-time World champions in a tactical sense, with Martinez starting Marouane Fellaini for more midfield steel.
“When you play against Brazil, you need to give yourself a tactical advantage,” explains Martinez.
“It is very easy to hope that you come up on the day things go your way and you win a football game but that can’t happen against Brazil. They bring a psychological barrier and you have to brave tactically.”
The former Wigan and Everton boss hailed the commitment of his players, which has seen them become the first set of players from their country to reach the semi-final of the World Cup in thirty-two years, when majority of them were not born.
He also tacitly eulogised his own tactical prowess, stating that he had never been out-thought in his thirteen years of management.
“The commitment and quality of the players make it possible for us to be flexible. To be flexible means that you have to take risks and you have to take yourself out of the comfort zone and that is what this group (of players) is all about.
“It was a big gamble because to change things at the World Cup, it means that the players have to believe.
“As a coach, I have never lost a game tactically but I lost many on the pitch and today, it is not about the tactics but the execution of those tactics.
“It was clear that we have to be compact, we have to stop the runs of Neymar, Coutinho, Paulinho, there are lots of threats to stop but I think we also want to have threats which Hazard and Lukaku gave us with their positioning on the pitch which is brave but if it is executed well like they did, it is always great,” added Martinez.
Belgium, blessed with numerous attacking talents remain the top scoring side at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia tournament but Martinez who enjoyed relatively good success at modest clubs in England says victory against Brazil required more than just talent.
“Today, it was about the mentality. I am the proudest man on earth today because I gave the players difficult tasks and they believed in it,” noted the 44-year old.
“I think it is the mentality. Brazil are good enough to win the World Cu and whatever happens, to beat Brazil in the World Cup, you need to be ready psychologically. You need to play well and to believe you can beat them and that was what impressed me in my team today.”
Martinez remains the only foreign coach in the tournament and history suggests that no foreign manager has ever won the FIFA World Cup. His enterprising Belgian side – with five wins out of five – in the tournament will face a dogged French side in the first semi final game at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in St Petersburg on Tuesday.