World Cup: Belgium wary of resolute Morocco
Belgium will be looking for a vastly improved performance when they take on a resolute Morocco in their second World Cup Group F fixture at Al-Thumama Stadium on Sunday, where victory will seal them a Round-of-16 berth.
Head coach Roberto Martinez described their 1-0 win over Canada in their tournament opener on Wednesday as the “worst technical performance” of his six-year spell in charge but said his team would improve as the Cup goes on.
“We arrived at the first game with five training sessions, which means the team is not ready. They are having to get ready while they are in the tournament, and that is dangerous because it can cost you points.
“We have seen teams start really well, but then they could not manage the game. You will see teams being ready only after three games,” Martinez said on Saturday.
Martinez is wary of the threat of Morocco, a team he knows well and a unit that comprises four Belgium-born players in its squad. “They are a team with a very good mixture between their flair and their quality,” Martinez pointed out.
“They have players that can create numerical advantages in the wide areas. They are well-organised, disciplined and have a good structure in the middle.
“They go eye-to-eye against anyone. They have an incredible self-belief.”
Morocco too, have a concern over one of their key names, Noussair Mazraoui, who was stretchered off in the 0-0 draw with Croatia. It’s not clear whether Mazraoui will recover from the hip injury in time.
It was a bit workmanlike performance against the Croats but one that coach Walid Regragui feels gives Morocco a platform to build on against Belgium. “I’ve only been here for two months and I’m proud of the players. “We wanted to achieve another result, but in the end, we were satisfied with the draw,” he said. “We’ll wait for the outcome of the Belgium match, and then we will look to qualify for the last 16 against Canada.”
Morocco had beaten Belgium 4-1 the last time the two teams met, which was in 2008, a game in which centre-back Jan Vertonghen and midfielder Axel Witsel both featured for the Belgians.
Striker Romelu Lukaku is ahead of schedule in his recovery from injury but is unlikely to feature against Morocco, Martinez confirmed. Lukaku has played two club games since August due to thigh and hamstring issues, and Martinez is taking a cautious approach towards a player who is key to Belgium’s chances in this World Cup.
“Romelu was only ever going to be available for the third game (against Croatia) and we will carry on with that. But he is ahead of where he should be,” Martinez said.
Written with Reuters inputs