Subdued Belgian manager Roberto Martinez was proud of the effort of his wards but could not help to wonder what might have been after their 0-1 loss to France in their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia semi-final game on Tuesday night.
Samuel Umtiti’s header early in the second half was the goal that separated both sides, earning the Frenchs a second World Cup final appearance in twelve years. The Barcelona star beating Marouane Fellaini to a near post corner kick in front of an enthusiastic crowd at the Saint Petersburg Stadium.
Umtiti and his central defensive pair Raphael Varane formed a largely impregnable partnership at the rear to ensure that Belgium fail to score for the first time in the tournament. That would not stop Martinez to acknowledge his wards’ efforts even in the face of defeat.
“If you’re going to lose a game, you have to be proud of the players. You lose by giving all your effort up till the last second,” said the Spaniard at the post-match press conference.
“The difference between the defeat and winning was one dead ball situation. We controlled their counter attacking play really well, we had the ball and we have to give a lot of credit with the way France defended,” added Martinez.
Martinez handed a rare start to Tottenham Hotspur star Moussa Dembele but the midfielder was replaced on the hour mark after an unconvincing performance. The former Everton boss refused to blame any of his players whilst highlighting the missing point for his side.
“It wasn’t about the individuals today,” he stressed.
“It was being able to cope as a team. I think the performance went down to small margins and the first goal was very vital.
“We couldn’t find a little bit of magic in front of goal. I think we missed that little bit of composure around the box, the little bit of movement around the box and not scoring the first goal was going to be difficult because of the way France were set up.”
Belgium will now stay in St Petersburg to contest the third place match against the losers of Wednesday’s other semi-final between Engkand and Croatia on Saturday at the commercial city. Martinez explains that his team are disappointed but will have to move on quickly.
“The disappointment is huge because the focus of the team was to get to the final and possibly win and although we coped (with France), we couldn’t get the result.
“We want to finish on a high. Our aim was to play seven games in this tournament and we will face our last game with same spirit on Saturday,” he concluded.
Fisayo Dairo reporting from St Petersburg