Rostov-on-Don: Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said his side should accept they will be the underdogs in their World Cup quarter-final against star-studded Brazil on Friday.
Belgium booked a last eight berth to face the Selecao with a last-gasp 3-2 win over Japan in Rostov-on-Don on Monday when Nacer Chadli scored the 94th-minute winner as the Red Devils came from 2-0 down.
Martinez’s side will face Brazil in Kazan and he says Belgium must embrace their role as underdogs who have nothing to lose.
“When you play against Brazil, you need to accept they are the best team in the competition, you need to accept your role,” said Martinez after beating the Japanese in the last 16.
“They have players who can decide the game on their own like (Philippe) Coutinho and Neymar.
“When we went 2-0 down (against Japan) there was the psychological feeling of ‘OK, we have nothing to lose’, which freed us up.
“That’s like how it will be against Brazil, except we can feel like that from the first second.
“This is the sort of game you dream about as a little boy and we can enjoy it from the first second.”
“We can enjoy it from the first minute,” the Spaniard said, describing the fixture as a childhood dream for footballers. “I don’t think anyone expects us to go through to the semi-finals.”
In a goalless first half on Monday, where the Japanese gave a side ranked third in the world by Fifa no space and threatened on the break, his players displayed “a fear of not being able to fulfil the tag of being favourites”, said Martinez.
He refused to take questions on his tactics, praising the Japanese and the “hunger” of his own players, though Belgians at home are asking plenty of questions about the strength of his three-man defensive line and the sharpness of an attacking force which had knocked in nine in three games in the group phase.
Brought in from Everton after quarter-final disappointments at the last World Cup and Euro 2016 to provide some Premier League collective steel to a “golden generation”, Martinez silenced any critics with a double substitution.
Yannick Carrasco and Dries Mertens had danced past lesser opposition in support of Eden Hazard and striker Romelu Lukaku but the Samurai Blue’s pressing left them at sea.
On 65 minutes, Martinez threw on West Bromwich Albion winger Nacer Chadli and Marouane Fellaini, the towering Manchester United midfielder.
Within 10 minutes, after a lucky goal from Tottenham Hotspur full-back Jan Vertonghen, Fellaini had headed the equaliser.
As extra time loomed, a quick throw out from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, a run through the middle by Kevin De Bruyne to feed Thomas Meunier on the right and a cross that Lukaku deftly left for Chadli had the Belgians in heaven in just 10 seconds.
“Miracle men,” was the simple headline in Brussels’ Le Soir.
Captain Hazard confessed it felt like Euro 2016 all over again, when a couple of key injuries saw the Belgians surrender 3-1 to modest Wales.
Meunier, too, admitted that he had thought, “It’s all over.” Against Brazil, he said: “We’ll have more tough moments. But it will be a great game. It’s now or never for Belgium do show we have the talent and what they call the ‘golden generation’.”