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‘A fear of losing’ – Pressure on below-par Belgium

Belgium are not out of this World Cup yet but Sunday’s shock defeat by Morocco posed more questions about their ageing team. Even boss Roberto Martinez admitted himself they have big problems.

For starters, two of their famed ‘golden generation’ are only bit-part players in Qatar, while another – Kevin de Bruyne – is not just struggling for form, but has seemingly written off his side’s chances of lifting the trophy.

While De Bruyne toils, Eden Hazard was only able to play an hour here before being replaced – to avoid entering what Martinez calls the ‘red zone’ of risking yet another injury.  Key striker, and Belgium’s record goalscorer, Romelu Lukaku is also only ready for cameo appearances after his long-standing thigh injury.

More serious issues, though, appear to lie in the team’s mindset than in the treatment room.  While victory over Croatia on Thursday will still send them into the last 16, Martinez admitted his side are currently playing like they are “afraid to lose” rather than being ready to win.

Belgium, who scored 14 goals in six games on the way to the World Cup semi-finals four years ago, have managed only one in their first two matches here, in their opening win over Canada.

The Red Devils were bereft of ideas against Morocco, creating little and allowed their opponents to grow in confidence, with the African side’s success noisily celebrated by thousands of their jubilant supporters in the stands.

There was a very different reaction to the result back in Belgium, with angry fans rioting on the streets of Brussels.

Asked about their disappointing display, Martinez felt the shortage of creativity was down to a lack of belief.  “That is a mindset, I don’t think it is a lack of quality,” he explained.

“We played a lot better on the ball than we did against Canada and got into really beneficial positions, but then that next pass was missing, that link-up was missing in the final third.  “We couldn’t find that spare man and I think that was because we played with a fear of losing.

“That is difficult to understand because in the last six years we are a team that always find opportunities to score. We had scored goals in almost 50 consecutive games, but here we failed to find the back of the net and it cost us.

“The players work so hard for each other off the ball and then on the ball I don’t see that enjoyment and that’s what we need to work on. We need to be ourselves.

“We probably now are in a situation where we have nothing to lose anymore [against Croatia].  “It is something to win.

It would be a real start for us at this World Cup because the talent is there and the quality in front of goal has always been there as one of the strengths of our team.”

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