Martinez: "Belgium lacked sharpness in final third"

Belgium's 24-match unbeaten streak came to an end at the hands of France in the World Cup semifinals.

Roberto Martinez

Roberto Martinez gestures during Belgium's semifinal against France.   -  Getty Images

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez rued his team's sharpness in front of goal in the 1-0 defeat to France in the semifinal of the FIFA World Cup.

"That little bit of composure, that bit of luck and sharpness in the final third, we missed that," Martinez explained in the post-match press conference. "The focus of the group was to win the tournament, so it's a sad dressing room now. We still want to finish on a high."

MATCH REPORT: Umtiti's header takes France into final

Martinez fielded Moussa Dembele in the starting XI in place of the suspended Thomas Meunier. "We knew we had to be good in the middle and in tight spaces and Demeble is the best player in that space. France didn't run away with the game or they were not mentally stronger than us, that first goal was the difference and unfortunately they got it," Martinez said.

On Samuel Umtiti's match-winner in the 51st minute from a corner-kick, he said, "You are going to get a lot of threat from dead ball situation in a World Cup, but we have dealt with it strongly. But it was not a mistake today but just a slight difference."

The pace of Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann exposed Belgium on the counter-attack on numerous occasions. However, Martinez felt his side managed to withstand the threat. "We coped with Mbappe's threat well and it shows defensively we worked. We were not as fresh in the previous games but that's not an excuse. Maybe we suffered when we didn't have the energy that France had. But that's the World Cup where you have to cope with the travel, missing a player, the pressure, the emotion of a big win," he said.

On Meunier's absence, "Meunier brings an understanding and involvement in the final third and we missed him. (Nacer) Chadli has been outstanding and he had to adapt to the change in position and he didn't have much of a say in today's final outcome."

Martinez felt that there was no need to press the panic button despite the semifinal defeat for the Red Devils. "It's too early to make any assessment and we are looking for the third place. After that we will regroup and look at the younger generation and become stronger from tournament to tournament. My eyes are on EURO 2020," he said.

Belgium will remain in St. Petersburg to play the third-place play-off match on Saturday against the loser from Wednesday's semifinal between Croatia and England. "Third-place match is a difficult emotion to manage. The next 48 hours will be important and we will have to regroup and take the opportunity to finish third. We have to understand this is an important game though it's difficult individually and collectively to prepare for this," Martinez concluded.

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