Roberto Martinez has insisted the label of world number one is not enough for Belgium as they target World Cup glory.
The Belgians, minus some of their biggest names, will run out in Dublin for Saturday’s friendly against the Republic of Ireland sitting at the top of FIFA’s pile but intent upon turning their reputation into tangible success in Qatar this winter.
Speaking at a press conference at the Aviva Stadium on Friday evening, manager Martinez said: “After the World Cup in 2018, it was a real objective to become number one in the world because that is a way of measuring a national team’s consistency.
“There are two ways of measuring the national team: there is tournament football and there is the consistency of that level to win games, qualification campaigns, and it is almost an objective that allows you to qualify for good tournaments.
“To be number one for four years is a tremendous achievement when you look at the size of the nation, and only two national teams – Brazil and Spain – have had a longer period.
“But now it is not an objective. It would be very irresponsible to concentrate on that. We’ve got bigger goals, which is developing the squad and trying to work and get us as prepared as we can for the World Cup.”
Martinez has selected only players with fewer than 50 caps for the trip to Ireland, but one of his big guns would have been missing anyway after Real Madrid confirmed Eden Hazard is to undergo surgery to remove a metal plate from his right ankle and will be sidelined for some time.
Asked if Hazard would be fit for June’s Nations League campaign, Martinez said: “I trust Eden so much as a footballer, as an individual and as a captain, and I’ve got no other reason to believe in that way.
“I don’t know if he’s going to be involved in the June games, everything needs to take a bit of a process and see how he recovers. But when he’s fit, he will be someone that we’ve got high hopes for and, for us, is very important.”
Martinez will go head-to-head with Stephen Kenny having been impressed by what the Ireland boss has managed to achieve in his two years to date at the helm.
He said: “I think it’s one of the great stories in international football because when you’re managing at international level you’ve got two choices.
“You try to bring your best performance and compete or create an idea of play and almost work like you would do at club level and then that takes time.
“But they have clear concepts and clear ways of trying to get the players to enjoy it, and that’s what Stephen Kenny has done. It is very recognisable the way that Ireland play.”
Thierry Henry will also be in the dugout in Dublin, with his World Cup play-off handball in 2009 still fresh in the memory of the locals, although Martinez was diplomatic when asked about the reception the French coach could expect.
He said: “What I do know is Thierry is a football man whose behaviour as a footballer created incredible moments and created incredible stories.
“Now he’s in a completely different role. Thierry Henry is not a player any more, he works with the national team and his work is very, very important, so for me to comment about what Thierry Henry did as a player is out of place.”
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.