Rivals Oranje 'perfect test for World Cup'

BRUSSELS - Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez believes their upcoming trip to face the Netherlands is the perfect preparation for the Qatar World Cup because of the intense rivalry between the teams.

The Belgians defeated Wales 2-1 in Brussels in the Nations League on Thursday and next take on the Group 4 leaders in Amsterdam on Sunday.

"If you were going to ask me which one will be the perfect game to prepare for World Cup, I would say play Holland because of the rivalry, because of what it means, because of the fans," Martinez said.

"Play it away from home and play with the game that you have to have a real direction and real meaning in the score. And then from that point, let's see how we can finish this Nations League campaign."

The Red Devils have every reason to feel confident ahead of their trip to face the Dutch after beating Wales, who have also qualified for Qatar, even though they should have scored more than their two goals.

The Welsh were fortunate not to be more than 2-0 down at the break owing to several squandered chances, but the visitors halved the deficit early in the second period when Kieffer Moore headed in from close range.

Second-placed Belgium have 10 points from five matches and must win by three goals on Sunday to overtake the Oranje, who have 13 points at the top of the group, and qualify for the Nations League semi-finals in 2023.

In de Bruyne, Martinez has a standout player and the Spaniard heaped praise on the Manchester City playmaker, saying his performance was "magical" after he struck the post, scored one goal and set up another for Michy Batshuayi in their win over Wales.

"I think this is a message to all our fans. Don't take for granted watching Kevin de Bruyne play," the former Everton boss said.

"For me, he's the most incredible playmaker in world football at this present time."

When de Bruyne netted after 10 minutes, it stretched Belgium's incredible run of scoring to 49 games, having last been kept out by France in their 2018 World Cup semi-final in St Petersburg.

On their victory, the City star said: "I think we fully deserved to win, we dominated the first half and created a lot of chances. Wales were playing man to man so there were more options in the first half.

"Then we started the second half poorly, we had to keep the ball as Wales were playing so deep and wait for the right moments."

Wales have a home game against Poland on Sunday as they bid to avoid relegation from the pool. They are currently bottom with one point.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2022, with the headline Rivals Oranje 'perfect test for World Cup'. Subscribe