Nations League: Belgium better than last meeting with France, says coach Martinez

Thursday’s clash in Turin is the first between the sides since France’s 1-0 victory over Belgium in St Petersburg in the 2018 World Cup semifinal after which it went onto be crowned world champion.

FILE PHOTO: Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez believes that his team meeting France in Thursday’s Nations League semi-final is stronger than the one that lost to its neighbour in the World Cup semifinal in Russia three years ago.   -  Getty Images

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez says his team to meet France in Thursday’s Nations League semi-final is stronger than the one that lost to its neighbour in the last four of the World Cup in Russia three years ago.

Thursday’s clash in Turin is the first between the sides since France’s 1-0 victory in St Petersburg, after which it went onto be crowned world champion.

For Belgium it was a lost opportunity, but Martinez feels the 2021 version of his side is better.

"I would like to believe that we are stronger, just because we have more players," he told a news conference on Wednesday.

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"When we need cover for suspensions or injured players out of the squad, I think the number of players available for Belgium now has grown."

Three years on from the loss in Russia, Martinez believes there is a deeper understanding among his players.

"It gives us a lot of synchronisation, something that you don’t get in international football. I think we always try to have a certain continuity with the selection players and try to work as you would in a club environment.

"The understanding between the players is a lot bigger, and we've been through a lot together. So, in terms of experience and the pool of players. I believe that we are stronger than we were in 2018," Martinez added.

The loss to the French was also the last time Belgium failed to score in an international. It has netted in each of its 38 matches since.

"We are a team that works hard to create chances. The French team is always very well drilled defensively, really well organised, and then you need to be always cautious because the moment that you lose the ball they've got a world-class attacking threat," Martinez said.

"This is a competition we want to be involved; it's not a friendly game with no significance. I think it's a very meaningful competition."

THEATE REPLACES INJURED THORGAN HAZARD

The Belgian football association said that attacking wide player Thorgan Hazard has been ruled out of this week’s Nations League finals due to an ankle injury.

READ: Spain ends Italy's winning streak to reach Nations League final

Hazard has been struggling with an ankle injury for several weeks and was left behind after two days of treatment when Belgium flew to Italy on the eve of its semi-final on Thursday.

He has been replaced by uncapped defender Arthur Theate

The 21-year-old Bologna centre back was chosen as Hazard's replacement in the 24-man squad because Belgium also has concerns about the fitness of Jason Denayer, who is still trying to shrug of a muscle strain. Theate is expected to be on the bench on Thursday.

Earlier this week, Belgium called up Thomas Foket to replace injured wing back Thomas Meunier.

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