Belgium are set to take on France tomorrow in the first of this week’s FIFA World Cup semi-final clashes. Roberto Martinez’s side gave an excellent performance against Brazil in the quarters, winning 2-1 and keeping the likes of Neymar and Philippe Coutinho relatively quiet. But can Belgium do a similar job against France, and how will they fare against Kylian Mbappe?
It’s hard to underestimate the levels of confidence that Belgium will have gained from beating Brazil. For many, Brazil have been the darlings of the World Cup ever since the days of Ademir and Zizinho in the early 1950s, and no matter the year or the squad, beating Brazil on the world’s biggest stage will always be a big deal.
Belgium crumbled under the pressure of expectation when they lost to Wales at Euro 2016; however, their victory over Brazil may have instilled a winning mentality that they were previously lacking, and ahead of tomorrow’s semi-final, Roberto Martinez has suggested that psychology could be a key factor in deciding the outcome of the match.
“This group has to play with no fear at all,” he told ESPN.
“If we approach this match with fear within us, we will bring ourselves down and we’d be able to do so much less than what we can actually do.
“To play without fear would probably be the one thing which would help us the most.”
The problem that Martinez faces, is that France have a few ‘fearless’ players of their own, and none have managed to cope with the inherent pressures of high stakes football quite as well as youngster Kylian Mbappe. So far at Russia 2018, Mbappe has scored three goals for Les Bleus, including two quick fire strikes that completely turned the tide in France’s thrilling 4-3 victory over Argentina.
Martinez has already singled Mbappe out as Belgium’s biggest threat, and has admitted that he has a plan to nullify the talented teenager.
“We will need to anticipate him and be well-positioned,” added Martinez.
“We need to defend spaces more than the player himself. But we are not going to forget the others since France has a very complete attacking pattern.”