- Belgium’s Russia 2018 run personified by varying tactical changes
- We look at Roberto Martinez’s tactical flexibility
- Russia meet France on Tuesday seeking a spot in the World Cup Final
“I say what I do and I do what I say.” A master of his own communication, Roberto Martinez has nonetheless been forced to show his hand at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Belgium’s five victories have all been achieved thanks to plans that were prepared well in advance of the tournament.
FIFA.com takes a closer look at the key strategic decisions behind Belgium’s run to the semi-finals.
First group match, 18 June – Belgium 3-0 Panama
The narrative had often been repeated, but was yet to be illustrated out on the field of play. Before arriving in Russia, Belgium had spent nearly two years honing their three-man defence. Yet 30 minutes from the end of their match against tournament debutants Panama, with his wing-backs struggling, Martinez reverted to a back four by introducing Mousa Dembele to the midfield and redeploying Thomas Meunier at full-back. The effect was instant. The Belgians swarmed all over their opponents going forward, while remaining watertight at the back.
The understudy takes centre stage
Second group match, 23 June – Belgium 5-2 Tunisia
Guaranteed of his status as first understudy to Romelu Lukaku at the point of Belgium’s attack, Martinez understood that Michy Batshuayi would benefit from a confidence boost, in case he needs him later in the tournament. The manager had assured him that his time would come, and the perfect opportunity arose in the match against Tunisia. Late in the game, as their opponents pushed forward in search of a way back into the contest, Batsman entered the fray. Taking advantage of the gaping holes in the Tunisian defence, he created several chances for himself before eventually scoring with seconds remaining.
Building team spirit
Third group match, 28 June – England 0-1 Belgium
“All the players are important at a World Cup.” Martinez proved as good as his word against England. With qualification to the knockout stages already secured, Belgium’s manager took the opportunity to give the rest of his squad valuable game time in their final group fixture. His players did not let him down, claiming their first win in 82 long years against the Three Lions and, just as importantly, sending the mood in the camp up another notch.
Round of 16, 2 July – Belgium 3-2 Japan
Nacer Chadli went to the World Cup on the back of a season to forget in English football. Martinez had defended his inclusion in the squad by highlighting his versatility, convinced that the West Bromwich Albion midfielder could have a valuable role to play over the course of a tournament. Marouane Fellaini is another who Martinez has frequently praised for the tactical options he offers during a match. Both players made a crucial impact from the bench against Japan, each grabbing a goal as the team came from behind to win.
Sweat and glory
Quarter-final, 6 July – Brazil 1-2 Belgium
“The World Cup does not respect talent, only teams.” It has become one of Martinez’s favourite mantras. Against Brazil, the coach stressed that his team would need to work harder than ever while defending deeply so as to create space for his forwards to exploit counter-attacks. The message came through loud and clear. Belgium toppled the South American giants by leaving their individual qualities to one side and focusing instead on the value of teamwork.