Belgium vs England - 'Belgium finishing third means more than Golden Boot to Lukaku'

Posted Saturday, July 14, 2018 by PA

Belgium vs England - 'Belgium finishing third means more than Golden Boot to Lukaku'

Belgium boss Roberto Martinez says beating England to third place at the World Cup means more to Romelu Lukaku than pipping Harry Kane to the Golden Boot.

The England captain tops the tournament scoring charts with six goals, two ahead of Lukaku, and the pair are likely to go head to head in Saturday’s third-place play-off in St Petersburg.

That is likely to provide one of the sub-plots in a fixture neither side wanted to be playing, but Martinez insists taking a podium place is more important than personal accolades.

“Romelu is here to help the team perform, not for individual awards,” said the Spaniard, who was celebrating his 45th birthday on Friday.

“We don’t look at that sort of reward and Romelu is the first to show that with his play. We had a moment against Japan where Romelu has the ball in the box, the last second of the game.

“Any striker that thinks he has 50 per cent chance of a goal takes that, but he made one of the best assists in the tournament.

“Other awards are more interesting to us. To be able to finish third, the best finish for the Belgian national team, would be an achievement we salute more than individual awards.”

Martinez has history with the striker, first coaching him as a teenager with Everton, and has marvelled at the player he has become.

“If you ask me ‘is he the best in the world?’, yes,” he said.

“But I am biased. I worked first with him when he was 19 and I’ve seen an incredible, incredible journey in his career.

“His numbers throughout his career are very difficult (to achieve). His biggest attribute is he is a goalscorer and a finisher.”

Martinez led his side to victory over England when the teams met in the group stage but has noted the positive changes in a country where he spent the majority of his playing and coaching career.

“It’s fair to say English football has had a real feeling of being able to achieve now,” he said.

“St George’s Park has brought that, it is a place of debate, a tactical floor, a place for sharing ideas. With the success of their under-17s and under-20s you could easily see English football at international level has been changing these last few seasons.”

Manwhile, England manager Gareth Southgate intends to keep changes to a minimum for the match.

It has been suggested Southgate could radically alter his team to give some of his fringe players a run-out as England bow out in Russia in the bronze-medal match.

But while Southgate will assess the fitness levels of his players, he does not want to deviate too far from what has become a settled line-up.

Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Southgate said: “We have to decide who can go again physically. Everyone wants to play but sometimes it is not a good decision to play someone if their energy is not quite there.

“We have to think who can give us the best performance. It won’t be the same XI but, ideally, we want to make as few changes as possible.”

Southgate admits it has been tough to come to terms with Wednesday’s semi-final heartbreak at the hands of Croatia but he insists motivation will not be a problem this weekend.

He said: “Emotionally it has been a difficult few days but the players are incredible. They are a pleasure to work with. They have an energy and desire.

“We want to finish the tournament well. We have set a standard of how we work and how we play and we want to aspire to that level every time we go out.

“We have high motivation to perform. We have a chance to win a medal at a World Cup, which only one other English team has ever done.

“There is a lot of motivation for us and Belgium have already beaten us, so we would like to address that as well.”

England’s hopes of winning a first World Cup since 1966 may be over but Southgate is pleased with the progress that has been made. He feels the team has not only improved on the field but perceptions of the national side at home have also been changed.

He said: “If we want to play for England we have to deal with expectation. We have raised expectation and I don’t have a problem with that because we have also raised belief in the players.

“And they now see playing for England as enjoyment, fun and not feeling under siege. There is an energy and connection back.”

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