Reuters - Defeat for Belgium was “just what the team needed" as they look ahead to the World Cup, coach Roberto Martinez insisted after Friday’s 4-1 thrashing by neighbours Netherlands in the Nations League.
It was the first home defeat for the Belgians since Martinez’ first game in charge, in September 2016 against Spain, and will be deflating blow just months away from the World Cup finals in Qatar, where Belgium are among the fancied teams.
They had spent three years at the top of the FIFA rankings until recently, when they slipped below Brazil to second.
On Friday, however, they were completely outplayed by the Dutch.
“This is what we needed to prepare for the World Cup. It's a hard result but it's clear what we need to work on,” Martinez said after the heavy defeat in Brussels.
“The World Cup does not start until November but with the national team we only have 17 days to get ready. It is clear what we need to work on, we started well and found spaces. After that it became physically difficult for players.”
Belgium have three more Nations League games over the next fortnight and two in September before they go to the World Cup, where they meet Canada, Morocco and Croatia in Group F.
"We have to use the Nations League to prepare for the World Cup. We have to keep building a team towards the World Cup.”
Martinez bemoaned the early injury to Romelu Lukaku who had been hurt in a training ground collision earlier in the week and was doubtful until the eve of the match.
"Lukaku's departure was a knock to the team. From then on it became a more difficult match,” he said.
Veteran defender Jan Vertonghen also said Lukaku’s exit threw the Belgians off their stride.
“A very painful defeat. We lacked momentum after Romelu's injury. The Dutch have had just as tough a season as we have, so that shouldn't be an excuse,” he said.
“The physical part was not tonight's shortcoming. In particular, we had difficulties controlling their strikers.
"This defeat puts our feet on the ground. It is clear that we will have to keep working hard.”