Martinez proud of Belgium after qualifying for Russia

Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku trying to get past Greece's Zeca (right) and Konstantinos Manolas during their World Cup qualifier on Sunday. Belgium won 2-1 and became the first nation from Europe and sixth team to qualify for the tournament in Russia
Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku trying to get past Greece's Zeca (right) and Konstantinos Manolas during their World Cup qualifier on Sunday. Belgium won 2-1 and became the first nation from Europe and sixth team to qualify for the tournament in Russia next year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BRUSSELS • Belgium delivered a performance of character and proved they were building "a winning team", coach Roberto Martinez said, after they became the first country to qualify from the European zone for next year's World Cup Finals in Russia.

A 2-1 away win against Greece on Sunday ensured top place in Group H for the Belgians and a second successive World Cup Finals appearance following a quarter-final finish in Brazil in 2014.

Belgium became the sixth team to secure their place at the tournament next year alongside Brazil, Japan, Iran, Mexico and Russia, who qualified automatically as hosts.

Sunday's result also extended Belgium's unbeaten run to 11 games, tying the country's previous best.

"We must be proud about being the first from Europe to qualify and now look to work harder to become better," said Martinez after the Belgians advanced to an unassailable 22 points, eight ahead of second-placed Bosnia with two games left to play.

"It was clear that we didn't play well, we weren't ourselves. But the game was only about winning, it was like a Cup final. It was not about playing good football. We had to win, in whatever manner we could.

"The first half of the game was probably the worst football we've played in this campaign."

Goals after half-time from Jan Vertonghen and Romelu Lukaku ensured the victory.

"I was really proud with the way the players fought. There were a few that stood out - (Thibaut) Courtois, (Kevin) de Bruyne, Vertonghen, (Marouane) Fellaini. It is a real team and I can only be proud of them," Martinez added.

"The players were not pleased at half-time and from their reaction you can see we are creating a winning team. They showed character, inspired one another and wanted to win. In a few weeks no one will remember how we did it."

Sunday's win meant Belgium have won seven of their eight group games with a home draw with Greece in March the only blemish.

Their 35-goal haul in eight matches is also the most by any team in the European qualifiers.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on , with the headline 'Martinez proud of Belgium after qualifying for Russia'. Print Edition | Subscribe