Belgium's Nations League hopes fell flat on Thursday, but Yannick Carrasco insists the squad still have faith they can achieve glory at the 2022 World Cup.

The world's number one ranked team squandered a two-goal lead as France came back to win 3-2 in their semi-final clash in Turin, Theo Hernandez scoring the crucial fifth goal of a thrilling contest in the 90th minute.

Instead of heading to San Siro to face Spain in the final, Belgium are instead back at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday, going up against European champions Italy in a third-place play-off.

It is the second such match during Roberto Martinez's tenure, the Barcelona-linked coach having previously guided Belgium to the semi-finals of World Cup 2018, where they also fell foul of France.

Belgium defeated England to claim third place in Russia, before reaching the quarter-finals at Euro 2020. Sunday's opponents Italy beat them there.

When asked if Belgium's squad still held belief in their ability to challenge at next year's World Cup in Qatar, Atletico Madrid winger Carrasco turned the tables on the media.

"Do we believe that we can win a prize in Qatar? We always believe in ourselves," he told a news conference.

"But do you still believe in us? Because we don't have that feeling. We know that we have a good team, that we can do something beautiful.

"On Friday, the coach showed what we did well and what we did badly.

"That is necessary to prepare for Qatar. A year is not long with the national team, we will use the match against France to get better."

 

Martinez, meanwhile, said a new cycle had now started for Belgium as they look to build towards the World Cup, which arguably presents the final chance for the Red Devils' 'golden generation' to claim a trophy.

He said: "A new cycle has started, that of preparing for the World Cup.

"Over the past five years we have created a style of play. Multiple players can bring what the team needs but our style of play goes beyond individuals. 

"We have been number one in the world for three years. Of course that is important. We want to remain number one. But our main motivation is to get better. The second half against France showed we are not the finished product."

Belgium will be out for revenge against the Azzurri, aiming to at least end their Nations League campaign on a high. However, they will be without Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, who have both been withdrawn due to what Martinez described as "muscle overload".

"I cannot say," Martinez said when asked if the duo would be fit for their clubs next week. "That is a question for the medical department. But it is definitely about overload and not injury."

In the hours after the takeover of Newcastle United was confirmed, Steve Bruce admitted he would not be surprised to lose his job.

The former Manchester United defender has rarely been too popular in his two years at St James' Park, and with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) and their astonishing financial might now in control of things, fans are expecting a more high-profile candidate to lead the first team.

While Bruce is expected to have talks with the new owners next week, there are suggestions he could leave his role before the home game with Tottenham on October 17.

Who might be chosen to lead the Magpies into their new era of promise? Stats Perform looks at some of the favourites.

 

Antonio Conte

Having left Inter at the end of last season, Conte represents an ideal choice for Newcastle: an elite coach with Premier League experience who is presently a free agent.

Conte won the 2016-17 Premier League title with Chelsea and the FA Cup the following year. He won 50 of his first 73 games in charge in England's top flight, a record bettered only by Jose Mourinho (50 wins in 63) and Pep Guardiola (50 wins in 69) at the time.

The Italian then ended Inter's decade-long wait for the Scudetto before walking out before this season, highlighting the risk that comes with appointing such a volatile coach. Still, back his demands in the transfer market and it will usually pay dividends in the short term. If Newcastle's owners are after a statement of intent, there are not too many better candidates.

 

Brendan Rodgers

Rodgers was tipped for the Tottenham job when Mourinho left but was apparently committed to Leicester City. However, recent reports have suggested he could be tempted by the project now developing at Newcastle.

The former Liverpool boss has done extremely well with Leicester, with back-to-back fifth-place finishes in the league and a brilliant FA Cup triumph last term, but he has perhaps taken the Foxes as far as he realistically can. Indeed, while fifth place cannot be snubbed at, Leicester held a spot in the top four for the majority of the previous two seasons, while they have had an indifferent start to this term.

Rodgers would also offer Newcastle fans the kind of attractive football they will be craving for the new era.

Steven Gerrard

According to reports, Gerrard is keeping a close eye on developments at St James' Park and would be a welcome choice among supporters given his pedigree as a Premier League player.

Last season, the ex-Liverpool captain led Rangers to the Scottish title without losing a single game, and they are on course to defend that crown after a promising start to 2021-22.

Gerrard would be more of a gamble than some of the more experienced candidates, but he has arguably earned the opportunity.

 

Roberto Martinez

Barcelona were said to be trying to work out how they could afford to replace Ronald Koeman with Martinez last month, although the former is keeping his job for now.

After watching Belgium give up a 2-0 lead to lose to France in the Nations League semi-finals, a deeply frustrated Martinez accused his side of throwing away five years of work, adding fuel to rumours that he feels his time with the Red Devils is coming to an end.

Martinez sprung a shock by winning the FA Cup with Wigan Athletic in 2013, although his commitment to attacking football could not keep them in the division and his Everton spell ended in disappointment after an initially bright start. But he said only this week to Goal that his ideal next job was a long-term project and that it "doesn't matter where it might be in the world".

Eddie Howe

Despite being considered for the Celtic job, Howe surprisingly remains unattached since leaving Bournemouth, the club he helped to lead from England's fourth tier to the Premier League.

Like Martinez, Howe won praise for the attractive football he was able to coax out of relatively unheralded players, although he too could not quite master the balance between positive play and defensive discipline, with Bournemouth relegated in 2019-20.

There was also criticism of Bournemouth's transfer spending during Howe's time in the Premier League: Dominic Solanke, signed for roughly £19m from Liverpool in 2019, only scored three times in 42 appearances in the top flight (although his Championship form since has been much improved).

 

Rafael Benitez

The return of Benitez would undoubtedly be welcomed by Newcastle fans, who generally hold him in high esteem following his three years at the club before his move to China.

Despite failing to save them from relegation in 2016-17, the Spaniard was considered a top-drawer coach who was hamstrung by the ownership of Mike Ashley and a lack of significant investment in the squad. After winning the Championship in 2017, Newcastle finished 10th in their first season back in the top flight but only 13th in the following two campaigns.

Prising him away from Everton would be neither easy nor cheap, but his experience of winning big trophies and his relationship with the supporters would arguably make him the most popular choice as manager.

Belgium threw away plenty of their hard work from across the last five years in their Nations League defeat to France, says a frustrated Roberto Martinez.

First-half goals from Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku had seemingly put Belgium well on their way to facing Spain in Sunday's final, only for Les Bleus to fight back to win 3-2.

Theo Hernandez got the winner in the final minute of normal time, just moments after Lukaku thought he had restored Belgium's lead following Karim Benzema's strike and a Kylian Mbappe penalty.

Yet VAR came to France's aid with an offside call, as they won their first game after trailing by two or more goals at half-time since May 2012 against Iceland in a friendly.

Belgium will return to Turin to face European champions Italy in a third-place play-off this weekend. Martinez, who guided the Red Devils to a semi-final at World Cup 2018 (where they lost to France) and the quarter-finals in Euro 2020, said his side had nobody but themselves to blame.

"We are very disappointed that we could not hold onto the lead," he said in post-match media duties. "We didn't have enough control in the second half. We let France get back into the game.

"When you play against someone like France, they punish all mistakes. We brought France into the game at a time when that shouldn't happen again.

"This is a competition in which we had to show our experience and all our hard work of the past five years. The disappointment is huge because the hard work and all the efforts the team has put in has been thrown away."

The match statistics back up Martinez's complaints.

In the first half, Belgium had more shots (eight compared to France's four) and controlled the possession (55.8 per cent), attempting 389 passes in contrast to 305.

Yet Didier Deschamps' side came out a different force after the restart, mustering 12 attempts in total, with Belgium only managing three, while the possession statistics were also flipped – France having 54.4 per cent of the ball as they upped the pressure and ultimately sealed their place in the final.

 

Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez believes his side are stronger now than they were three years ago when they made the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.

Martinez's side, who are currently first in the FIFA rankings, will play their World Cup semi-final conquerors France in the final four of the Nations League on Thursday.

After their third-place finish at Russia 2018, Belgium were beaten by Italy in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals in July, prompting suggestions the Red Devils' golden generation had missed their chance for silverware.

Martinez's starting XI in their World Cup semi-final defeat was the oldest (28 years, 356 days) of all of Belgium's line-ups during the tournament, which some might argue was evidence of them being at the peak of their powers.

Between the start of the last World Cup and the present day, Belgium have named a starting XI with an average age of 29 years or more nine times – seven of those have been in 2021 alone. 

"I think I would like to believe that we are stronger just because internally I do feel that we can cope with more players when they are suspended or they are out of the squad," Martinez said during a news conference ahead of the clash with world champions France in Turin.

"I think the pool of players for Belgium now has grown, and as well, an extra three years that we've been able to play together.

"That's what synchronises us, something that you haven't got a lot of in international football. I think we always try to have a certain continuity with the players and try to work like you would do in a club environment.

"The understanding between the players is a lot better. We've been through a lot together. In terms of experience and the pool of players, I believe that we are stronger than we were in 2018."

Martinez conceded France had also grown from their 2018 triumph, citing Kylian Mbappe's evolution into a world-class talent along with the re-emergence of Karim Benzema after international exile and Paul Pogba's return to form.

"I would believe that if you'd ask [France head coach] Didier Deschamps this, he'd also say that his team has improved as well since 2018," Martinez said. "I think this generation in French football, they've got probably three elite footballers per position."

Martinez was full of praise for Belgium forward Romelu Lukaku, who spoke out about his dislike of his tag as a "target man" earlier this week.

Lukaku, who moved from Serie A champions Inter to Champions League holders Chelsea in August, has netted eight times in Belgium's past eight matches and Martinez praised his all-round threat.

"Romelu has become a number nine that can do everything," Martinez said of Belgium's all-time leading scorer. "He can play with his back to the play and run in behind.

"He's got the power, the pace, he's got the understanding of combining with other players as someone that can play with the pace and power, but with intelligence as well.

"I think at his time at the end in Italy with Inter Milan, give him another degree of maturity as well. You're talking about player that is now at the height of his career and his outstanding knack is always scoring goals."

Is there a more reliable way of making sure a football team fails to live up to expectations than to label them the 'Golden Generation'?

Okay, maybe that's a little reductive as 'living up to expectations' is of course entirely dependent on context – the Czech Republic's 'Golden Generation' from 1996-2006 finished second and third at two out of three European Championship appearances. While not successful in the literal sense, most would agree it was a commendable achievement.

But for Belgium's plentiful crop, a lot more was expected than what they've achieved. While perhaps less of a disappointment than England's own 'Golden Generation', third place at a World Cup isn't going to be much of a legacy given some of the talent the Red Devils have had.

Roberto Martinez's side fell at the quarter-final hurdle in Euro 2020, with eventual winners Italy emerging 2-1 victors and Belgium left to watch the latter stages of another tournament pass them by.

At the very least, this week does offer them a chance at a first international trophy. They face France in Turin on Thursday in the second of the 2021 Nations League semi-finals.

But down the line when their best talents have retired, would the Nations League – which probably has a limited shelf-life itself if certain people at FIFA get their way over proposals for biennial World Cups – really suffice as the pinnacle of their achievements?

Red Devils awaiting replenishment

Of course, Belgium do still have time – the next World Cup is only 13 months away.

But how many would realistically consider them among the favourites? Concerns over the age of their squad are valid and, while 13 months isn't necessarily a long time, elite football has a tendency to expose and exacerbate even the slightest weakness, of which age can be an example.

Reaching the 2018 World Cup semi-final was the closest Belgium have come to winning the biggest prize in football, as they got to the last four before ultimately losing to Thursday's opponents France.

 

Martinez's starting XI in that game was the oldest (28 years, 356 days) of all of Belgium's line-ups during the 2018 World Cup. While that may not necessarily be shockingly old in itself, some might suggest that was evidence of them being at the peak of their powers.

Since Russia 2018, Belgium have only got older. Now, you might be inclined to say, "Yeah, that's how aging works, genius", but football is obviously cyclical. Teams don't just age for eternity, they are refreshed and replenished.

It's difficult to say that's happening on a consistent basis with Belgium, though.

Young Lions setting the example

Gareth Southgate's England got just as far as Belgium in Russia and their squad was already rather young (26.0 years), with only Nigeria (25.9) having a younger group of players at the tournament.

The third-place play-off – when fringe players were given opportunities – aside, England's starting XI's average age only dipped below 26 once, and that was their third group game (also against Belgium) having already secured a spot in the next round.

But there were clear signs of further refreshment to Southgate's team after the tournament, with their first XI's average age not reaching 26 again for more than two years (November 2020).

 

Between the start of the last World Cup and the present day, Belgium have named a starting XI with an average age of 29 years or more nine times – seven of those have been in 2021 alone. Their oldest average age in that time, 30 years and 148, was during the 1-0 win over Portugal at Euro 2020.

Of course, it didn't work out too badly on that occasion, and their collective age isn't necessarily a barrier in a given game, but it does suggest Martinez has to be reliant on his older players because the next generation isn't of the same calibre.

The starting XI selected against Portugal at the Euros was the second-oldest named by any team at the tournament after Slovakia.

While key players such as Romelu Lukaku, Yannick Carrasco, Youri Tielemans and Thibaut Courtois haven't reached 30, Kevin De Bruyne, Axel Witsel, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Eden Hazard have.

So, what of the next generation?

Belgium's next hopefuls

Belgium's youngest team of 2021 – and fourth-youngest since the start of the last World Cup – was named last month (26 years, 364 days) in the 1-0 win away to Belarus.

Among the 15 players who featured, only three were 24 or younger: Dodi Lukebakio, Tielemans and Alexis Saelemaekers, who at 22 was the youngest. Zinho Vanheusden (also 22), Yari Verschaeren and Charles De Ketelaere (both 20) were unused substitutes.

Arsenal midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga (21) had been in the squad, while Jeremy Doku impressed with his pace and trickery at Euro 2020 despite only turning 19 in May. These, for the time being, appear to be Belgium's next biggest hopes.

Lokonga looks set to be an interesting option in midfield. Athletic and a hard worker, his 62.2 per cent duel success was the 15th highest among outfield players in the Belgian Pro League last season, but he's also an assuring presence in possession.

 

Of the Pro League players to attempt at least 30 dribbles last term, Lokonga (41) ranked third in terms of completion percentage (72.1), while no midfielder or winger recorded more ball carries (627) than him. Among the same group, only three – two of whom were wingers – carried the ball further upfield over the course of the campaign than Lokonga (3,356.9 metres).

His former Anderlecht team-mate Verschaeren has been around for a few years now, with this impressively his fourth season in the club's first team. Last term saw him progress as a goal threat, improving from two the season before to six, but early suggestions he could be the 'next Eden Hazard' haven't really been on the money.

While Hazard has always been renowned for his dribbling, Verschaeren is a rather less conventional winger in that sense given he only attempted 1.8 per 90 minutes in 2020-21. Instead, his strength lies in link-up play, with just six players among forwards and midfielders (at least 900 minutes played) bettering his 83.5 per cent pass completion in the attacking half of the pitch.

Although his shot-ending sequence involvement average of 4.1 per 90 minutes was unspectacular, it was above average, whereas his goal-ending sequence involvement of 0.8 each game was bettered only seven.

But where Verschaeren's stock may not have risen as quickly as some expected a couple of years ago, De Ketelaere does appear to be on a good trajectory.

Capable of playing as a striker, winger or No.10, De Ketelaere has often been deemed lightweight despite his height and easily knocked off the ball. His duel success has improved to 54.6 per cent this term from 44.3 – among the worst – last season, a consequence of him bulking up somewhat, and although he continues to lack presence aerially (36.8 per cent aerial success), De Ketelaere can get by because he's a good technician.

He was important as an associative player in attack in 2020-21, as demonstrated by the fact he was involved in shot-ending sequences with a total xG (expected goals) value of 21.8, the seventh-highest in the Pro League, while he's already matched last season's goals output of four.

 

Doku is seemingly the outstanding one of the bunch in terms of flair, at the very least. He attempted (184) and completed (110) the fifth-most dribbles across the top five European leagues last season, encouraging proof of his confidence and technique.

Currently injured, Doku still has plenty to work on in terms of his end product, but the raw minerals are there, and he didn't look out of place at Euro 2020.

Are these youngsters enough to carry the burden of expectation that's been cultivated by Belgium's 'Golden Generation', though? At the moment it's difficult to say the new kids on the block are generally of the same quality on an individual level, because Lukaku, De Bruyne, Hazard et al have just been so good over the years.

While Nations League success may not cut it as a satisfactory legacy for this Belgium team, winning the title in Italy might just give them the nudge their collective mentality needs ahead of what looks likely to be a last realistic tilt at the World Cup for a while.

Roberto Martinez says he has had no contact with Barcelona amid reports he is a contender to replace Ronald Koeman.

Barca boss Koeman is reportedly on the brink of being sacked following a 3-0 Champions League defeat at Benfica on Wednesday.

Martinez is a close friend of Barcelona sporting advisor Jordi Cruyff's and president Joan Laporta is said to be an admirer of the Belgium head coach's work.

However, Spaniard Martinez has played down talk that he could be set to return to his homeland.

"There is absolutely nothing. There are no contacts," Martinez told Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws 

"The basis of my friendship with Jordi is that we separate the private from the professional.

"At no time did I ask Jordi what my situation was in Barcelona. I don't think he has the function of appointing a possible new coach."

Martinez is under contract with the Red Devils until after the World Cup in Qatar next year and says he is focused on the job in hand, with a Nations League semi-final against Italy to come next Thursday.

"I would love for us to be the first European country to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar. That is the challenge after the Nations League final," he added.

"But in football you never know what will be done tomorrow. I wake up every morning as Belgium coach until the last day of my contract, but I realise that many circumstances can arise along the way."

 

Chelsea lodged three bids before Romelu Lukaku realised their interest in him was serious, but he did not want to disrespect Inter after they rescued him from Manchester United.

Lukaku returned to Chelsea for a reported £97.5million (€115m) last month, departing Inter after two seasons in Serie A, having led the Nerazzurri to the title last season.

The former United forward excelled in Italy after a difficult two-year spell at Old Trafford, regaining the form that saw the Red Devils pay a reported £75m to sign him from Everton.

Lukaku scored on his second Chelsea debut, helping Thomas Tuchel's team to a 2-0 win at Arsenal.

Reflecting on his move while on international duty with Belgium, Lukaku revealed he was swayed by how much the Champions League holders pushed to sign him.

However, he was grateful to Inter, and adamant he would not take an unfair route in order to secure a move back to west London.

"I didn't want to go behind Inter's back," Lukaku said. "They got me out of the s***. I was in a deep hole at United."

Speaking to VTM Nieuws, Lukaku said: "With Chelsea's third offer, I knew it was serious.

"I only realised that Chelsea were serious when they made their third offer. First, they offered €100m. Then €105m, €105m plus [Marcos] Alonso. Then they offered €110m plus [Davide] Zappacosta, but Inter said no.

"After training I went to [coach Simone] Inzaghi's office. I didn't want to ruin the atmosphere because I was no longer in Milan in my head. So I asked him: please find an agreement."

Lukaku netted twice in Belgium's 5-2 win over Estonia on Thursday. On Sunday, he will make his 100th appearance for the national team should he feature against the Czech Republic.

"He is a legend of Belgian football, his statistics are fantastic," Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said of Lukaku, who is the country's record scorer with 66 goals.

"When I talk about Romelu, it's always a bit subjective. I've been lucky enough to see Romelu grow as a player and he's developed superbly.

"Tomorrow he will play his 100th international match and I think that should be a big party. Sometimes we take for granted what we have. But players like Romelu are rare, they should be enjoyed."

Roberto Martinez was pleased with the maturity shown by his Belgium side after they recovered from an early setback in their World Cup qualifying win over Estonia. 

The Red Devils fell behind for the third time in four Group E matches when Mattias Kait turned over possession and rifled a shot past Thibaut Courtois inside the first two minutes of Thursday's contest. 

But Hans Vanaken had Belgium on level terms 20 minutes later and Romelu Lukaku scored either side of half-time to give the visitors some breathing space in Tallinn. 

Substitute Thomas Foket bagged his first international goal after Axel Witsel had further extended Belgium's lead, rendering Erik Sorga's late strike nothing more than a consolation. 

Despite conceding a couple of sloppy goals in the 5-2 victory, Martinez was ultimately happy with the result in his side's first game since their Euro 2020 quarter-final loss to Italy two months ago. 

"Estonia deserve all the credit for their first goal – they recaptured the ball high up on the pitch and the shot was great. That just happens in football," Martinez said. 

"The second goal is due to the substitutions we made. I was pleased that after the first goal we remained calm and knew what to do.  

"I'm happy to have scored five goals. The team has shown maturity today. These gatherings in September are not the easiest, and it's not always the favourites who win."

Courtois was well beaten by Kait's early shot and was let down by some sloppy defending for Sorga's strike as Belgium shipped two goals for the second game running. 

The Real Madrid goalkeeper was eager to focus on the positives from the win, however, which leaves Belgium top of Group E with 10 points from four matches. 

"We played a good game today," Courtois said. "Those two goals against us are of course less good, but in possession we were good.  

"The goals we conceded is something that happens. There's nothing you can do about it. We have to analyse it internally, but the most important thing today was the win. 

"We could have scored eight or nine goals in the end, but we know that it has to be better against the Czech Republic on Sunday." 

Thursday's match was a special occasion for Arsenal midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga, who made his senior debut for Belgium as a second-half substitute. 

"I'm happy with my first cap," he said. "The coach asked me to play for the team, he didn't want the team to relax.  

"It's a good period for me and my family but you have to keep your feet on the ground. It's clearly a good time for me and I hope it will continue." 

Roberto Martinez has confirmed he will continue as Belgium boss despite overseeing the 'disappointment' of a quarter-final exit at Euro 2020.

The world's number one ranked side breezed through the group stages and defeated Portugal in the round of 16 before seeing their progress halted by Italy.

It had been suggested Martinez could step down after overseeing another major tournament failure for what has often been described as a 'golden generation' of players.

However, the Spaniard has reaffirmed his commitment to the jobs of head coach and technical director for the Royal Belgian Football Association.

"The disappointment after the lost game against Italy was great, but the focus is already on the World Cup qualifiers in September and the final four of the Nations League a month later," he said.

“Only when I feel like I can't add anything more will I leave. I will also continue my work as technical director. That's the plan.

"There has been a lot of talk about my future: before, during and after the tournament. 

"I always find it hard to talk about myself because this isn't about me. It's about creating the best possible conditions in which footballers can work and develop. 

"I still see a lot of energy in this group and this project is still on the rise. This team is now ready to move on, to get back on the field. September can't come soon enough."

 

Martinez also rejected suggestions that Belgium's Euros exit will be followed by a string of international retirements, adding: "Nobody thinks about quitting.

"The players of this team immediately want to continue, do better. On the other hand, there are also no players that I am dissatisfied with and will therefore no longer call. The players have not failed at this tournament."

The former Wigan and Everton boss did, however, acknowledge that he has a talented group of youngsters ready to make their mark at senior international level.

And he expects them to push their more experienced counterparts for regular game time in the years to come.

He continued: "There is a list of 12 young players who are already involved in the national team. 

"Four of them have already [played] several times: Jeremy Doku, Zinho Vanheusden, Charles De Ketelaere and Yari Verschaeren. 

"The next 12 months are going to be very important for them, they have to dare to compete with the older guard. 

"Our job is to put the young people in the right environment, to create conditions in which they can perform, after that you have to let football decide. 

"As a coach you only have to bring young players into the team who are ready for it. Just being young and talented is not enough. We must support and help develop those talents, work on quality. Talents have been lost in the past."

Martinez was also asked about the future of Thierry Henry, who served as his assistant manager between 2016 and 2018 before returning ahead of the European Championship campaign. 

He said: "At the moment, no decision has been made about a possible collaboration in the future. 

"Much will depend on his personal situation, whether or not he is working for a club. But it is clear that the relationship between him and the national team is very good."

The chief executive of the Belgian Football Association says Roberto Martinez will stay on as coach despite Belgium's Euro 2020 "failure".

A 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Italy in Munich on Friday ended the Red Devils' hopes of being crowned champions of Europe.

Belgium once again started the competition with the expectation of mounting a strong challenge to win a first major tournament as the top-ranked team in the world.

They fell short once again under Martinez, but CEO Peter Bossaert says the Spaniard has the full backing of the Belgian FA and he does not expect the 47-year-old to walk away.

Asked if Martinez will remain at the helm, he told HLN: "Yes. He has a contract until the end of the World Cup [in Qatar next year]. 

"We are already together on Monday for the international matches in September and the Nations League final. I'm not afraid he'll leave. Normally he stays.”

Bossaert can understand criticism of Belgium after their exit at the hands of the Azzurri.

"The result is disappointing, so you can call it a failure," he said. "I fully understand that. We didn't realise what we were working for. 

"That's the cruel side of top football. If you lose in the KO phase, you don't have a chance to make amends."

 

Bossaert does not feel Euro 2020 represented the last chance for a so-called 'golden generation' to win a major tournament.

He added: "I am more positive about that [their chances of glory at a big competition]. This European Championship was a missed opportunity, but the Nations League final will follow in October and the World Cup will start in 16 months. 

"Many of our top players are still quite young. [Kevin] De Bruyne and Eden Hazard are 30, [Romelu] Lukaku 28, [Yannick] Carrasco 27, [Youri] Tielemans 24, and I can name many more. 

"They can last a long time. This generation still has opportunities. Certainly in the first two challenges, the Nations League and the World Cup, we can be ambitious. 

"Then there is the European Championship in Germany. The World Cup in 2026 in the US, Mexico and Canada is still too far away. But if we regularly supplement this core with new talents, I look to the future with confidence."

Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez refused to comment on his future after the country's Euro 2020 elimination at the hands of Italy, insisting the situation is "too raw".

Italy booked their spot in the semi-finals against Spain after overcoming Martinez's Belgium 2-1 in Munich on Friday.

Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne put Italy two goals ahead by the 44th minute, but Belgium pulled one back before the interval courtesy of a Romelu Lukaku penalty. 

Despite going close, Belgium – one of the pre-tournament favourites – were unable to find an equaliser against red-hot Italy as the Red Devils lost in the quarter-finals of the European Championship like they did in 2016.

Attention swiftly turned to Martinez, who is contracted through to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar but has been linked with a return to club management.

"Well, obviously, this is a moment that is very, very difficult to speak anything else than the defeat and that we are out of the Euros," Martinez said. "As I say, at the moment, it's still too raw. And I do not want to say anything that it could be [seen as] emotional.

"At the moment, all I want to do is look back into this tournament and I would say that the players have done nothing wrong. It is the opposite.

"They did everything they could to get us as far as we can [at Euro 2020]. And now is the time to analyse and to assess. But, at the moment, the feelings of disappointment and sadness, unfortunately, is what is in my head now."

Belgium have faced Italy more times at major international tournaments (World Cup and Euros) without winning than any other side (five).

No Belgium player has scored more goals than Lukaku at either the European Championship (six) or the World Cup (five, level with Marc Wilmots).

Lukaku has scored 24 goals in his last 23 appearances for Belgium, including 22 in his last 19 competitive internationals.

"The feelings are what you can imagine, really - sadness and disappointment - because I do not think these players deserve to be out of this tournament," said Martinez. "They have done an incredible job to be prepared to be ready to go step-by-step every day, from the beginning of the tournament. And unfortunately, today [Friday], we faced a very good side [Italy]. I thought it was two very good teams in this knockout phase. And, unfortunately, the margins did not go in our favour."

Belgium star Kevin De Bruyne played despite carrying an ankle knock, though captain Eden Hazard watched from the stands due to a hamstring injury.

"The situation with Axel [Witsel] and Kevin [De Bruyne] and Eden [Hazard] going into the tournament, I think we managed it very, very well and you could see the attitude of those players," Martinez added. "They started to grow into the tournament and they have been a real bonus. They really helped us from the moment that they could be on the pitch.

"Obviously, injuries happen and it is unfortunate that Eden could not be on the pitch with us [against Italy]. But it was exemplary to see Kevin De Bruyne getting through whatever he would, to get 90 minutes with his national team and showing that he was ready to help the group.

"So, I think, for every 'Red Devil' fan, there is a real pride and understanding that these players did everything they could to try to get what we wanted to get. And unfortunately today, we faced a very good team [Italy] and, with two good teams, the small margins went for them. And that is a small difference and that happens in football."

Roberto Martinez will decide on Friday whether Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will play any part in Belgium's Euro 2020 quarter-final tie with Italy.

De Bruyne was forced off early in the second half of Sunday's 1-0 last-16 win over Portugal with an ankle problem, while Hazard damaged his hamstring later in the same game.

Both players have travelled to Munich for Friday's showdown with Italy, though neither took part in Belgium's final training session ahead of the match.

Martinez admitted on Monday it was unlikely either De Bruyne or Hazard would be fully recovered in time, and the Spaniard still remains unsure if either player will make the squad.

"As you know they have not been able to train today," he said at Thursday's pre-match news conference. 

"There is still another 24 hours to go and they are positive they can recover. It is now a race against time to make a decision.

"We won't make a decision until the last minute. At the moment it's impossible to say whether they will get fit."

Asked if he is playing mind games by making Italy guess as to the pair's availability, Martinez said: "We are trying to get them fit. It has nothing to do with games or arrogance.

"We are in tournament mode. If they are not available tomorrow, we hope to have them available later."

Injury-plagued forward Hazard has struggled for fitness over the past couple of seasons and Martinez appeared to suggest the Real Madrid man has less of a chance of being fit.

"For Eden, it's difficult as it's a muscle injury," he said. "For Kevin, it's another type of injury. It's a decision for the medical staff. We will then make a decision when we hear back."

 

The winners of Friday's match at the Allianz Arena will face either Switzerland or Spain for a place in the final.

Italy needed extra time to overcome Austria in the last round, with that 2-1 victory extending the Azzurri's unbeaten run to a new national record of 31 matches.

Roberto Mancini's side have conceded more than once in only one of their last 18 games at major tournaments, conceding just 13 times in total across that sequence.

Martinez got the better of Mancini in the 2013 FA Cup final, with Wigan Athletic stunning Manchester City, but the Spaniard is full of praise for what his opposite number has achieved.

"Italy are a great team," he said. "They press with many players and are very dynamic, with many players able to counter-attack.

"If I have to mention one quality in particular it is the synchrony. That is credit to Mancini and that is why they are unbeaten for so long.

"Italy and Belgium are statistically the best teams in the European Championship, and the teams that have won the most games since qualifying.

"It's a pity we're meeting them already, just like we faced Portugal too early."

Against no side have Belgium played more games at major tournaments without winning than Italy (four, level with France and Germany).

The only European nations Italy have faced more often at the same tournaments without losing, meanwhile, are Germany (nine) and Austria (five).

However, the Red Devils have won seven of their last eight matches at the European Championships – the exception being a 3-1 loss to Wales in the 2016 quarter-finals.

Roberto Martinez has confirmed injured Belgium duo Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will not be fully fit for the Euro 2020 quarter-final against Italy.

De Bruyne was forced off early in the second half during his side's 1-0 win over Portugal on Sunday, a result that saw the reigning European champions knocked out at the last-16 stage.

The Manchester City midfielder was seen with ice on his left ankle while watching on from the sideline, where he was later joined by Hazard after the Real Madrid winger damaged his hamstring late in proceedings.

Martinez is preparing to be without the pair when the Red Devils take on the Azzurri in Munich on Friday, though remains hopeful they can feature if Belgium progress to the last four.

 

"The initial information that we have from medical staff is positive for both, they will remain with the squad and they have no structural damage," Martinez told the media on Monday.

"But we are up against time and it is very difficult to see them fully fit. We have to take it day by day to try and get them fit.

"We were all a bit concerned before we got the news from the scans and it was a relief to all that we can now work on trying to get them fit again."

Eden's brother Thorgan Hazard scored the only goal of the game against Portugal, sending Belgium through to the last eight for a second successive European Championship.

They lost at the same stage of the previous edition, however, going out to Wales in 2016.

Eden Hazard fears he suffered a serious hamstring injury after Belgium eliminated defending champions Portugal in the Euro 2020 last 16 as Roberto Martinez also awaits news on star Kevin De Bruyne.

Belgium ousted Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal 1-0 en route to the quarter-finals on Sunday but it may have come at a cost, with Hazard and De Bruyne both hobbling off in Seville.

Thorgan Hazard's stunning long-range strike set up a showdown with in-form Italy, however, it was overshadowed by brother Eden Hazard, who clutched his hamstring as he left the field late in the match after De Bruyne succumbed to an ankle problem early in the second half.

Afterwards, Eden Hazard – who has been hampered by injuries since joining Real Madrid in 2019 – told reporters: "I hurt myself, I felt something in the hamstring.

I think I have something, we'll see tomorrow. We will analyse the injury well, we will see the extent afterwards.

"As captain, I will stay with the group because I have an important role to play."

Thorgan Hazard said: "I hope it's not a big injury but it doesn't look so good. The medical staff in Belgium is very good so we hope everything will be ok for the rest of the tournament. Also for Kevin because we need these two players to go forward."

Joao Palhinha's challenge on De Bruyne in the 45th minute saw the Belgium star substituted shortly after the restart, as head coach Martinez added: "We will take 48 hours now to assess the situation of the two players.

"We go back to Belgium now and they will have scans on the injuries tomorrow.

"It's too early to say how they are doing. With Kevin, it's the ankle -- he couldn't really turn in the second half. With Eden it's the muscle, but we have to wait for a diagnosis."

Belgium claimed their first win over Portugal since September 1989 (3-0 in a World Cup qualifier) – ending a run of five meetings without a victory against them (D2 L3).

The Red Devils also equalled their longest winning streak at major tournaments, winning five in a row for the second time (both under Martinez). Belgium have won 10 of their 11 games across the World Cup and European Championships since the Spaniard took charge.

"We had incredible concentration and defended really well," said Martinez. "We scored a very good goal. In the second half the more the momentum went to Portugal we had to show an incredible mentality. Everything was about being disciplined and tactically astute.

"We never lost concentration and there were difficult moments. The way Portugal pushed for victory until the end, this gives me incredible satisfaction.

"This is what a winning team needs. We know the talent we have but all the other elements you need were shown today. For us it was the biggest test there is."

Belgium have scored six goals from outside the box in the last two European Championships (2016 and 2020); at least twice as many as any other team in this period.

Thorgan Hazard was the fifth different Belgian player to score from outside the box in the competition since 2016, along with Radja Nainggolan (two), De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard.

Belgium's Thorgan Hazard netted in consecutive games for the country for the first time, while he has now scored four international goals since his brother Eden last scored for the national team.

"I think the trajectory was a little bit weird for the goalkeeper," Thorgan Hazard said after his goal was compared to Ronaldo. "I tried my luck.

"In these matches, if you have an opportunity or you have a chance, you always have to try and with a little bit of luck, it went it. Especially as this was a qualifying goal so it’s a dream." 

Belgium and the Czech Republic booked their spots in the last eight of Euro 2020 on Sunday. 

The Red Devils' starting XI against Portugal had an average age of 30 years and 148 days – the oldest named by any of the remaining teams in the competition – and that experience seemingly paid off as they produced a stubborn display to edge past Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. 1-0. 

In the other game, the Czech Republic took full advantage of Matthijs de Ligt's red card early in the second half to seal a shock 2-0 win over the Netherlands. 

Stats Perform looks at the best stats from another absorbing day of action in Euro 2020.

Belgium 1-0 Portugal: Hazard strike seals Red Devils' progress

The Red Devils booked their place in the last eight with their first victory over Portugal since September 1989 (3-0 in a World Cup qualifier), ending a run of five meetings without a win against them.

The winning goal came from Thorgan Hazard in the first half, the Borussia Dortmund man scoring in consecutive games for his country for the first time.

He has also now scored four international goals since his brother, Eden, last scored for the national team, highlighting the older sibling's recent difficulties.

That goal ensured Roberto Martinez's side equalled their longest winning streak at major tournaments, sealing five victories in a row for the second time. Indeed, the Red Devils have won 10 of their 11 games across the World Cup and European Championship since Martinez took charge.

Portugal, meanwhile, will go away and lick their wounds after being eliminated with just one victory from their four games (D1 L2), their fewest in a single European Championship since their first appearance in 1984, when they also won one of four (D2 L1).

It should perhaps come as little surprise they were unable to bounce back from Hazard's goal. Since Euro 2004, they have only fought back to win in one of their 10 games in the competition when they have conceded the opening goal (D3 L6).

Netherlands 0-2 Czech Republic: De Ligt's dismissal proves costly

Frank de Boer's men became the first side to win 100 per cent of their group stage games before losing in 90 minutes in the first knockout round at a European Championship.

They can scarcely have any complaints either, given they failed to have a single shot on target in a European Championship and World Cup game for the first time since Opta records begin (1980). 

Their hopes suffered a blow in the 55th minute when De Ligt became the first player to be sent off at the European Championship for the Netherlands since John Heitinga in 2004 (also versus the Czech Republic). De Ligt (21y 319d) is now the fourth-youngest player to receive a red card in the tournament.

 

The Czech Republic took full advantage of his dismissal, winning their first game in the knockout stages of a major competition since Euro 2004 thanks to goals from Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick. 

Holes became the first Czech player to both score and assist in a single match at the European Championship since Jan Koller and Milan Baros also did so against the Netherlands at Euro 2004.

Schick's goal, meanwhile, was his fourth in four games at Euro 2020, with only Baros (five) now having scored more major tournament goals for the Czech Republic.

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