Jose Mourinho claims he was the "first choice" and "only option" to take over as Portugal head coach but rejected the job as he is committed to Roma.

Roberto Martinez was this week appointed as successor to Fernando Santos, whose tenure as Portugal boss came to an end after a shock World Cup quarter-final defeat to Morocco last month.

Spaniard Martinez took over not long after leaving his role as head coach of Belgium following their failure to advance from the group stage in Qatar.

Mourinho, who was tipped to return to his homeland and take charge of the national team before Martinez was appointed, revealed Portuguese Football Federation president Fernando Gomes made it clear he was the man he wanted to replace Santos.

The Roma boss has expressed his gratitude to Gomes, but says he did not want to turn his back on Serie A club Roma.

He said: "I would like first of all to thank the president of the federation. What Fernando Gomes told me made me very happy and made me proud.

"He said that I was not only the first choice as the new national coach, but also that I was his only option and that's why he would do anything to bring me back home.

"It was an honour, but in the end I decided not to accept. I'm here in Rome, that's what counts."

Mourinho, who has also been linked with the vacant Brazil job, signed a three-year deal when he was appointed as Roma head coach ahead of the 2021-22 season.

When Fernando Santos called time on his eight-year stint as Portugal head coach after their 2022 World Cup quarter-final elimination, few would have correctly predicted his replacement.

Roberto Martinez also left his national team role after the tournament in Qatar, with Belgium disappointingly falling at the group stage.

The former Everton and Wigan Athletic boss took the Red Devils to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018, before reaching the last eight of Euro 2020, being eliminated by the eventual winners in both.

Martinez finds himself in charge of A Selecao now after his appointment was confirmed on Monday, and there is plenty of work to be done.

Qualifiers for the 2024 European Championships get underway in March and with the talent at their disposal, Portugal must be fancied to be among the favourites for the tournament in Germany.

Stats Perform has taken a look at five things in Martinez's in-tray that he will need to consider if he is to find success with his new team.

Solve the Ronaldo conundrum

"Decisions have to be made on the pitch. I won't rush into decisions. I want to meet everyone, and from today I want to talk and meet all the players," Martinez said at his first press conference as Portugal coach.

"Cristiano [Ronaldo] is part of that list. He's had 19 years in the national team and deserves respect, let's talk. From there, it's up to me to make the best list for the European Championships."

Ronaldo has 118 goals in 196 caps for Portugal, undeniably an international record to be proud of, but he will be 38 years old when Martinez takes charge of his first game.

One of the new boss' biggest issues with Belgium was getting the best out of ageing stars, and with Portugal arguably looking far sharper when Ronaldo was benched in Qatar – hat-trick hero v Switzerland Goncalo Ramos in particular – perhaps now is the perfect time to allow the former Real Madrid and Juventus man to fully focus on his new adventure in Saudi Arabia and call time on his international career.

Getting the best out of Joao Felix

This is a problem Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone is all too familiar with, hence why Joao Felix is being linked with a loan move to the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal instead of lighting up LaLiga on a weekly basis.

The 23-year-old has plenty of talent, but a lack of consistency belies the nine-figure fee Atletico paid Benfica for him back in 2019.

If Martinez chooses to move on from Ronaldo though, Joao Felix could find the space and responsibility to thrive at international level as part of a team where everyone would be expected to chip in.

Of players to have featured in at least 14 LaLiga games this season, only Mikel Merino, Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembele average more than Joao Felix's 0.42 assists per 90.

Utilise Dias to build solid foundation

Arguably Martinez's main struggle by the end of his time with Belgium was managing a defence filled with players who were several years past their prime.

He will need to make sure that Portugal maintain freshness there as a good defence will always give you a chance in international competitions, such as when Portugal conceded just once in four knockout games on their way to winning Euro 2016.

One key decision could be taken out of his hands, with Pepe expected to announce his retirement from international football, but in Ruben Dias, Martinez has the perfect figure to build his defence around.

The Manchester City centre-back is one of the best in Europe and has shown under Pep Guardiola he can also be relied upon in a backline that pushes high to close space and allow the attack to press from the front, something Martinez has often favoured when he has had the tools to do so.

Build around Bruno

Since his move to Man Utd in January 2020, Bruno Fernandes has proven himself to be one of the premier midfielders in Europe, and at the World Cup, he began to show that he can lead for his national team as well.

Only Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi (both 10) had more goal involvements than Fernandes' five (two goals, three assists) in Qatar, while no-one produced more than his three assists.

In the Premier League this season, only Kevin De Bruyne (41) has created more chances from open play than his 40, with the Manchester City man having played a game more, and with plenty of attacking firepower to aim for with Portugal, Fernandes can in theory fill his assist boots over the coming years under Martinez.

Make the most of Leao

One of those talents Fernandes should be working with is Rafael Leao, one of the most exciting attackers in Europe right now.

While Santos had plenty of other fine players to choose from, it was surprising to see Leao reduced to just substitute appearances in all five games at the World Cup, though he still produced two goals before Portugal were eventually eliminated by Morocco in the quarter-finals.

The Milan forward should really be Martinez's primary weapon on the left of the attack, especially if he can replicate the form that saw him win Serie A's player of the season award as the Rossoneri claimed the Scudetto in 2021-22.

Cristiano Ronaldo will still have the chance to represent Portugal after new head coach Roberto Martinez left the door open for him to compete for the national side.

A move to Al Nassr for Ronaldo after the World Cup came after a turbulent period for the 37-year-old saw him released by Manchester United and then dropped by Fernando Santos during Portugal's campaign in Qatar.

Now in Saudi Arabia, it has not been clear whether the 196-cap forward's time on the international stage would end at the start of a new era under Martinez.

However, speaking at his unveiling on Monday, the former Belgium boss confirmed he will talk to Ronaldo, and other players, before making decisions on the squad.

"Decisions have to be made on the pitch. I won't rush into decisions. I want to meet everyone, and from today I want to talk and meet all the players," he said at a press conference.

"Cristiano is part of that list. He's had 19 years in the national team and deserves respect, let's talk. From there, it's up to me to make the best list for the European Championships.

"Tomorrow we will start working to meet all the players, and Cristiano is one of them.

"We will start a football process to try to get to know all the players who will be able to join this team. We will give a chance to all players and respect all who are already in the team.

"I'm delighted to have them by my side. It's a process that we have to face naturally, responsibly, and we're going to make important decisions for the team."

Portugal begin their qualification campaign for Euro 2024 in March against Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.

Portugal have appointed Roberto Martinez as their new head coach.

Fernando Santos called time on his eight-year stint at the helm last month, a decision which followed Portugal's surprise World Cup defeat to Morocco.

Santos led Portugal to the quarter-finals in Qatar, where he benched Cristiano Ronaldo for the Selecao's two knockout games – a comprehensive 6-1 win over Switzerland and the 1-0 loss to the Atlas Lions.

Martinez, who was presented as Portugal's new coach on Monday and has reportedly signed a four-year deal, became a free agent shortly before Santos' exit, leaving his role as Belgium coach after the Red Devils slumped to a dismal group-stage exit in Qatar.

Former Wigan Athletic and Everton boss Martinez led Belgium to their best World Cup campaign when they clinched third place at Russia 2018, though his failure to deliver silverware with a crop of players said to be the country's "golden generation" has attracted criticism.

Martinez oversaw 61 games during his six-year spell in charge of Belgium, winning 47 (77 per cent).

Belgium beat Canada in their opening match in Qatar but a defeat to Morocco and draw with Croatia saw them slump eliminated from a World Cup group for the first time since 1998.

They entered the World Cup second in FIFA's world rankings, but dropped to fourth after their failure to reach the knockout round.

Upon taking the job, one of Martinez's foremost challenges will be to make a decision on the international future of Ronaldo, who has joined Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia following the termination of his contract with Manchester United.

Though Ronaldo recognised his "most ambitious dream" was over after failing to inspire Portugal to glory at his fifth World Cup, the 37-year-old is yet to retire from international football.

Portugal will begin their qualification campaign for Euro 2024 at home to Liechtenstein on March 23, having been drawn into a group also containing Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Slovakia and Luxembourg.

Portugal have appointed Roberto Martinez as their new head coach.

Fernando Santos called time on his eight-year stint at the helm last month, a decision which followed Portugal's surprise World Cup defeat to Morocco.

Santos led Portugal to the quarter-finals in Qatar, where he benched Cristiano Ronaldo for the Selecao's two knockout games – a comprehensive 6-1 win over Switzerland and the 1-0 loss to the Atlas Lions.

Martinez, who was presented as Portugal's new coach on Monday and has reportedly signed a four-year deal, became a free agent shortly before Santos' exit, leaving his role as Belgium coach after the Red Devils slumped to a dismal group-stage exit in Qatar.

Former Wigan Athletic and Everton boss Martinez led Belgium to their best World Cup campaign when they clinched third place at Russia 2018, though his failure to deliver silverware with a crop of players said to be the country's "golden generation" has attracted criticism.

Martinez oversaw 61 games during his six-year spell in charge of Belgium, winning 47 (77 per cent).

Belgium beat Canada in their opening match in Qatar but a defeat to Morocco and draw with Croatia saw them slump eliminated from a World Cup group for the first time since 1998.

They entered the World Cup second in FIFA's world rankings, but dropped to fourth after their failure to reach the knockout round.

Upon taking the job, one of Martinez's foremost challenges will be to make a decision on the international future of Ronaldo, who has joined Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia following the termination of his contract with Manchester United.

Though Ronaldo recognised his "most ambitious dream" was over after failing to inspire Portugal to glory at his fifth World Cup, the 37-year-old is yet to retire from international football.

Portugal will begin their qualification campaign for Euro 2024 at home to Liechtenstein on March 23, having been drawn into a group also containing Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Slovakia and Luxembourg.

Chelsea's struggles and riches mean they are going to be busy during the January transfer window.

The Blues, who face Manchester City in the FA Cup on Sunday, are currently 10th in the Premier League as they continue to adjust to head coach Graham Potter.

Chelsea have already signed Benoit Badiashile, David Datro Fofana and Andrey Santos this month, while also being heavily linked with Benfica midfielder Enzo Fernandez, but they may have another World Cup finalist in their sights.

TOP STORY – CHELSEA KEEN ON THURAM IN JANUARY

Chelsea have commenced discussions with Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach about a move for French forward Marcus Thuram, reports Fabrizio Romano.

Thuram's Gladbach contract expires at the end of this season and he is not planning on extending the deal.

Chelsea and Gladbach will hold further talks in the coming days to discuss conditions and a price tag for the 25-year-old in January.


ROUND-UP

– Negotiations between Atletico Madrid and Manchester United on a Joao Felix loan deal are ramping up, with the Spanish club demanding a £9.5million (€10.8m) loan fee and a commitment to buy for £70m (€79.4m), according to the Sunday Mirror.

– FootMercato claims Manchester United are exploring a deal to sign Wout Weghorst on loan. The 30-year-old Dutch striker is currently on loan at Besiktas from Burnley, with an £8.8m (€10m) buy option in the deal.

Tottenham are interested in signing Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford as a long-term replacement for veteran Hugo Lloris, claims the Sunday Mirror.

Napoli have made an opening bid worth €15m plus add-ons for Azzedine Ounahi from French club Angers, claims 90min. Ounahi impressed with Morocco at the World Cup and has also been linked with Leicester City .

– The Sun reports that Crystal Palace will rival Everton in pursuit of Aston Villa striker Danny Ings in January.

Arsenal are monitoring Tammy Abraham's situation at Roma, claims La Repubblica.

– The Athletic reports that ex-Everton and Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has a verbal agreement to take over as Portugal head coach.

Former Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez told his players he would be leaving after the World Cup following their shock defeat by Morocco - a result he admits "will haunt for me a long time".

Semi-finalists in 2018, the world's second-ranked side suffered a surprise group-stage elimination in Qatar after finishing third in Group F.

The Red Devils struggled past Canada in their opening game before suffering a 2-0 defeat against Morocco, while their premature exit was confirmed by a goalless stalemate with Croatia.

It brought the curtain down on a poor tournament that also saw Martinez and several players forced to dismiss reports of a rift within the squad.

The Spaniard, who subsequently stepped down after six years in the role, also denied rumours of any friction within the camp in his first interview since departing.

"It's the match against Morocco that will haunt me for a long time," he said. "We weren't ourselves. A bit like against Canada by the way. We were not in the state to win these games.

"Against Croatia, it was different. We are probably the team that created the most chances against the Croatians. You won't find any tactical or technical expert who can explain to you why we didn't score in the last half hour. A matter of millimetres.

"I told the group after the defeat against Morocco that I would stop after the World Cup in Qatar. 

"In a way, everyone knew that the match against Croatia could be the last. I would have liked to say goodbye on December 19 [the day after the final].

"Fake news has grown in importance. When L'Equipe writes that Jan Vertonghen and Eden Hazard had fallen out, the group had the impression that all the media were jumping on the information.

"So, we decided to distance ourselves from the outside world. The core wanted to show that the group is solid. And from that moment on, you saw another team. It made us stronger. How many percent of what L'Equipe said was true? Zero, nothing, nada."

Martinez felt Belgium's lack of preparation was also a factor in their poor performance in Qatar, with a 2-1 defeat against Egypt representing the only friendly the Red Devils played before the tournament commenced.

But the 49-year-old has fond memories of their run to the semi-finals in Russia four years earlier, including the homecoming parade in Brussels.

"In 2018, we had three warm-up matches. Not this time," Martinez added. 

"Several countries used this group stage as preparation. That was the price to pay for a tournament in the winter. Unfortunately, we needed two games to be ready.

"In 2018, I already felt at the airport [before the finals] that the team was ready - emotionally and tactically.

"Here, I only felt that two days before the game against Croatia. After the match against Egypt, I felt that we were not ready. Nothing was rolling for us.

"On the Grand Place in Brussels. I cherish that image from 2018 for life, it is burned on my retina. It will encourage me to keep working in football."

Belgium are targeting the appointment of a "serial winner" as they welcome applications to succeed Roberto Martinez as head coach after their early World Cup exit. 

Martinez led Belgium to their best World Cup finish of third in Russia four years ago, but the Red Devils fell some way short of those lofty standards in Qatar.

A 2-0 defeat to surprise package Morocco and a goalless draw with Croatia ensured Belgium fell at the first hurdle this time around, and Martinez subsequently announced his departure.

Having failed to progress to the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time since 1998, Belgium – who were second in the latest edition of FIFA's World rankings – are looking to hire "a serial winner with an experience in managing top players".

Announcing the start of their recruitment process, the Royal Belgian Football Association (RBFA) said: "Even after the early elimination at the World Cup in Qatar, the RBFA remains very ambitious for the future. 

"The RBFA is looking for a full-time national team coach who knows how to win. The new national team coach is extremely ambitious and has the necessary international experience at top level, football tactical knowledge and insights as well as the right personal skills. 

"He knows how to focus on creating a close-knit group and how to integrate young players."

The RBFA is also looking to hire an elite football sports director with responsibility for guiding the association's "football vision", with online applications for both roles welcomed until January 10. 

Belgium have been drawn alongside Austria, Sweden, Azerbaijan and Estonia in the qualification process for Euro 2024, which begins in March.

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal joked that his wife would have to make the final call on his next destination, as he did not rule out taking over as Belgium's boss.

Van Gaal will leave his role in charge of the Oranje after their World Cup campaign comes to an end in Qatar.

The United States are the Netherlands' opponents in the last 16 on Saturday.

One team that has not progressed from the group stage is Belgium, with the world's second-best side - according to the FIFA rankings - finishing third in Group F after Thursday's goalless draw with Croatia.

Roberto Martinez confirmed after the match that his six-year tenure as Belgium coach was coming to an end and on Friday it was put to Van Gaal that the Red Devils could be his next job.

"Belgium is a really friendly country with really friendly people, and Knokke-Hesti is a lovely beach town," Van Gaal said with a smile.

"It is surprising [Belgium are out]. There's players in the squad that are really marvellous, when you look at them individually. But it's all about the team.

"I was never at their training sessions, I don’t see every match. I saw the last match – they should have won and they would have qualified."

Asked if he would consider the move, Van Gaal quipped: "You've got to convince my wife!

"Joking aside, no. I'm always at liberty to take decisions myself but there are certain countries I would not move to and my wife wouldn't – simple as that.

"I am here with the Dutch team, we want to be world champion, and then we'll see if there's any offers on the table.

"I have said, if we become world champions, football is so opportunistic that I know there will be offers, I know that full well, but at the moment we are not world champion and if I believe the Dutch media, we will never be world champions!"

Van Gaal's immediate task is to guide the Netherlands into the last eight, where they would meet either Argentina or Australia, but he is far from underestimating the USA.

"All I can say is what I have seen. I was never present at training or meetings, or when he prepared his players," he said.

"What I've observed is a vision, what I see is a team that is keen to execute that vision, which is of the utmost importance, and I see the conviction of the players.

"That must be fantastic for a coach. It's how I feel about my group. I've conveyed that message for a year and a half because I don't think I've ever had a group like this one.

"You see it on the pitch, but I'm apparently only one in the Netherlands who sees that – it's probably me!"

Zlatko Dalic was sorry to see Belgium lose a "great coach" in Roberto Martinez as his departure was confirmed with Thursday's World Cup exit.

Dalic's Croatia held Belgium to a goalless draw at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, following Morocco through to the last 16 in Group F.

Martinez, who was out of contract after six years as Red Devils coach, announced he would be leaving his role in his post-match news conference.

"I think Belgium have lost a great coach," said Dalic. "I'm sorry he resigned."

Discussing his own future, the Croatia boss added: "My project is Euro 2024 and the Nations League Finals. When I finish these projects, then I'll think about how to proceed."

Although the 2018 finalists themselves missed out on topping the group, Dalic hailed the performance of his team.

"It would be selfish for me to single out individuals," he said. "They all gave everything of themselves."

Full-backs Josip Juranovic and Borna Sosa were more open to picking out individuals, each lauding 37-year-old player of the match Luka Modric.

Asked if the Real Madrid man was still one of the world's best, Juranovic replied: "Yes – [that answer] is short enough. He is the best midfielder ever."

Sosa added: "Of course, it's easy [to play with Modric]. The better players you have in your team, the easier it is to play.

"With Luka, one of the best players in the history of the sport, it is very easy."

Departing Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez revealed his "huge disappointment" after the Red Devils crashed out of the World Cup.

The world's second-ranked side suffered a surprise elimination in Qatar after finishing third in Group F following a goalless draw with Croatia.

It brought the curtain down on a poor tournament for 2018 semi-finalists Belgium, who struggled past Canada in their opening game before suffering a shock defeat by eventual group winners Morocco.

The Croatia stalemate also spelt the end for Martinez, who confirmed his departure as Belgium head coach after six years in the role.

"We were ourselves today," he reflected. "We had very good performances and frustrated Croatia in the first half, but couldn't take chances in the second half.

"We got in very good positions, but didn't execute them well. Second half, we looked strong and probably created more clear-cut chances than in 2018.

"We showed heart, and we saw a group that really cares, which we missed in previous two games - we weren't ourselves [in the first two games].

"Due to quality and experience, we won the first game [against Canada], but we were not ourselves. Today was completely different.

"Morocco was disappointing, and we're out of the World Cup because margins are small - there's no margin for error. Morocco took their chances and Croatia now rightly progress through. It's a huge disappointment for us."

Martinez also explained his reasons for Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, who was only introduced in the 87th minute at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, starting Belgium's must-win showdown on the bench.

It came after a tumultuous week, in which he dismissed reports of a rift within the camp as "fake news" at his pre-match news conference.

"Lukaku couldn't play the 90. We saw in the second half, he lacked physicality," Martinez said. 

"We used him where there were bigger gaps and got him in the box. He moved well and got in good positions, but missed chances.

"I'm happy with the way we planned for this game. The players that started gave us what we wanted, and then we could have scored three goals in second half, and it would have been a different story.

"We were here for seven games and couldn't take a risk on players, it would not have been responsible to play [Lukaku] from the start, same with Eden Hazard."

Much of the discussion surrounding Belgium's underwhelming campaign in Qatar has focused on the ageing of a so-called 'golden generation' of players, with Kevin De Bruyne stating the Red Devils' squad was "too old" ahead of the finals.

Defender Toby Alderweireld insisted the senior players within the squad are yet to make a decision on their futures.

"I think as a team, you have to take the responsibility," he added. "I think we played a very good game. We could have won.

"I think we lost the qualification in the last game against Morocco. If we didn't lose this game, it was a total different game. This is the reality. It hurts.

"It's not every year that there's a tournament. We'll see what everyone is doing, but I think it's too close to the last game to decide.

"Everyone goes home now, goes to their club and decides what they're going to do. This hurts, it's normal, but decisions are not made after the game."

Roberto Martinez confirmed he has taken charge of Belgium for the final time following their World Cup exit, but he does not believe this is the end for the country's 'golden generation'.

Belgium finished third in Group F after toiling to a 0-0 draw with second-placed Croatia at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on Thursday, ensuring they failed to qualify from a World Cup group for the first time since 1998.

Martinez – who led Belgium to their best World Cup finish when they claimed bronze in Russia four years ago – was under contract until the end of the tournament, and has revealed he planned to walk away however the Red Devils fared.

"That was my last game for the national team and it was emotional. I can't carry on, sorry," a visibly moved Martinez said at his post-match press conference.

"This was the end, whether we won or went out in the group. It has nothing to do with being eliminated at this stage.

"I'm someone who likes to build things. For six years, I've been here with the objective to reach the World Cup and win it. We won the bronze medal in 2018 and gave it another go. It's been a real joy. 

"We've built a legacy. I know people will see it a different way, but I'm so proud. Looking at the dressing room now, we have youngsters who can now be starters. 

"It's been six amazing years that we've been able to do everything you want to do with a club at a national team. 

"I've loved the way this team has played and given everyone incredible joy. The fans in Belgium have appreciated this. It's now time for me to accept this is the last game.

"I've always wanted to be loyal and finish the job. I'm not resigning, it's the end of my contract. This was always the plan."

Much of the discussion surrounding Belgium's underwhelming campaign in Qatar has focused on the ageing of a so-called 'golden generation' of players, with Kevin De Bruyne stating the Red Devils' squad was "too old" to win the World Cup before the tournament began.

However, Martinez does not believe Belgium's best days are behind them, highlighting the way his team's achievements could inspire the country's next generation. 

"You see players like Youri Tielemans, players like Amadou Onana and Jeremy Doku," Martinez told BBC Sport. "The golden generation is doing something that is bringing the next generation on.

"It's not necessarily what names are on the pitch, the legacy can be left in many ways.

"Today, we are out of a big tournament, and now the standards need to carry on rising, the young players need to carry on this line.

"We wanted to get through, but I'm sure the other national teams wanted to get through too. That's a tournament, and you are in the best tournament in the world. 

"In the previous one [in 2018], we won all three group games and it wasn't in enough go all the way. For me, it's the same feeling. Today, it was a way of losing that you can accept."

In a statement issued by the Belgian Football Association, CEO Peter Bossaert hailed Martinez for creating an "immense legacy" for future generations in the national side.

"With his team Roberto left an immense legacy for the next Belgian football generations," he said.

"Not only by introducing a modern structure on analysis, education and scouting but also by initiating the preparation for the next step in the careers of the players aiming to become a coach. But also his contribution to the expansion of the brand-new and state-of-the-art Football centre in Tubize was huge.

"Last but not least we thank him for the familiar atmosphere he brought into our house and for being a great ambassador for Belgian football. The full staff of the RBFA will miss him a lot. We wish Roberto Martínez the best of luck for the future.”

Roberto Martinez insists this is Belgium's "golden generation" and does not see any similarities with England's flops of the mid-2000s.

This group of Belgium players has long been lauded, but the Red Devils' best performance of recent years saw them finish only third at the 2018 World Cup.

As pressure builds on the side at the 2022 finals, where there have been reports of veteran stars quarrelling, coach Martinez has come to their defence.

He sought to highlight the contributions of Belgium's leading men off the pitch, as well as on it, and suggested the England team given the same label under Sven-Goran Eriksson were not comparable.

"It's interesting, because when I arrived in 2016, there was talk of a 'golden generation'," Martinez said on Wednesday.

"Clearly we were not the golden generation. The golden generation of Belgian football was 1986 in Mexico. They were the ones who arrived into the semi-finals.

"Since then, these players showed incredible commitment to the national team. We're talking about players who left Belgium very young, they went into the best dressing rooms in European football, they win trophies, and they're always committed.

"We have eight players with over 100 caps; we have Thibaut Courtois reaching his 100th cap against Croatia. You've got players who gave their career for the national team.

"This generation is the golden generation of Belgian football, there is no doubt.

"They got the bronze medal in 2018, they kept the national team for four years at the number one spot in the world rankings, a population of 11,000,000.

"Twenty-one of them got their A [coaching] licences. This generation is going to carry on impacting Belgian football from a coaching point of view for the next 20 years.

"They were able to build a new training facility, state of the art, that is going to change Belgian football for the next generations.

"What you can say is this generation haven't won a major tournament. But leaving a legacy goes a lot further than winning a tournament. I'm sure you can find national teams who win tournaments and they don't leave a legacy.

"This group of players deserve respect, deserve admiration for what they've done.

"From here, we can win, draw, lose, but with the legacy of this generation, I am the proudest person because I've been able to work with them, to see day to day how much they care.

"The next 20 years in Belgian football will not be the same because of this generation.

"You cannot compare it to England. England was a group of players that were sensational, outstanding at a group level, and they never found the way to do that with the international team. Comparisons are totally, totally impossible."

Roberto Martinez has blasted the Belgian media for coverage of a "genius" French-based report detailing supposed unrest in the Belgium camp ahead of a huge World Cup match against Croatia.

Belgium lost 2-0 to Morocco in their second Group F game and must now defeat the 2018 finalists to be sure of advancing to the knockout stage.

The Red Devils' preparation for that fixture has been hampered this week by discussion of a rift within the team, first reported by RTL and L'Equipe.

Belgium's players subsequently came together for a meeting – "it wasn't a crisis meeting, as we might have heard from some quarters," insisted Timothy Castagne – as they aim to "show more solidarity" against Croatia.

Castagne added the reports had "exaggerated a lot" and he had "seen worse", before Martinez, appearing after the defender at a pre-match news conference, suggested his team now knew they were in Qatar "on our own".

"For us, nothing changes. The standards come from within," the coach said.

"We were not happy with our two performances. We got the result in the first game, but we were not happy with our performance.

"The second game was the first time we lost a game by two goals in a major tournament. You can imagine we were not happy with it. We had to react.

"Then you see the storm on the outside and realise maybe we were listening too much to the noise on the outside before the tournament.

"You have some outlets in Belgium who are quite happy to jump on fake news. That's quite astonishing. It's made the group quite aware that the least you listen to the noise from outside the better.

"It's the biggest sporting event in the world, and you can see there are many World Cups being played. Maybe a country like France did a very good job with a story that became the main talking point of some outlets.

"There is more desire to find negative news around this team, rather than getting the nation together, supporting this team, enjoying the talent of the best generation we ever had in Belgian football.

"Probably that was a lesson for all of us: we are here on our own. We are here to fight for what we believe. Hopefully the fans, the real fans of the Red Devils, can enjoy the process."

Pressed on his suggestion the story had come out of France and been intended to hurt Belgium, Martinez replied: "I've got too many things to do in camp to think about where this story comes.

"What is clear is whoever came up with it, whoever has done it has scored a great goal, an own goal for Belgium.

"If I'm an opposition and I can weaken another side and get them out of the World Cup, I would do that as a journalist, I would love to win my own World Cup. Whoever's done it is genius."

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said his side would not be "fooled" by the reports around the Belgium team, adding: "I don't have an opinion on them and what's happening there.

"They are the second-best team in the world. That's all I care about. We are not focusing on any other aspects. We are focusing on Belgium, their quality.

"They cannot forget overnight how to play football. They are a top-notch team. They're number two, and we're number 12."

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez conceded his team "lacked joy" in their play after succumbing to a miserable 2-0 defeat to Morocco on Sunday.

The Red Devils went down to goals from Romain Saiss – adjudged to have got the slightest touch on a dangerous Abdelhamid Sabiri free-kick after 73 minutes – and Zakaria Aboukhlal in stoppage time.

It left Belgium, third-place finishers in 2018, teetering on the brink of an early elimination and knowing they will likely have to get something against Croatia in their final Group F game on Thursday to stand any chance of going through.

Belgium have looked disjointed so far in Qatar and Martinez feels they are perhaps struggling with the thought of a final shot at glory for the nation's 'golden generation'.

He said: "I don't see us enjoying it, we have lacked that joy. It may be due to the weight we are carrying on our shoulders. In the last game, we have to play it to win it. We've played the last two like we have something to lose.

"Now we have something to win. If we beat Croatia, we will qualify. The talent is there and the quality in front of goal is always there."

Martinez claimed to be unaware of an interview given by Kevin De Bruyne in which the Manchester City midfielder suggested this Belgium team are weaker than the 2018 group, but he defended the 31-year-old after another subdued display.

Asked why fans have yet to see the best De Bruyne at the World Cup, Martinez replied: "We haven't seen the best Belgium yet, we haven't been at our best.

"Until the goal, the performance was a step forward from the Canada game, and we have never lost the desire to get results, but the team haven't been themselves, not just Kevin.

"We've played with too much responsibility, we need to find that freedom. Football is a team sport but, if we do that, every individual can find a higher level."

Morocco coach Walid Regragui was delighted with his side's display, although he wants them to finish the job and secure a place in the knockout phase. This result followed a draw against 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia.

"We have four points, that's extraordinary for Morocco," he said. "We played against one of the best teams in the world, with big players. We knew that if we didn't give 100 per cent it's impossible to win, but with these fans, these players, this spirit...

"We are a very difficult team to beat. This is a good win, but we haven't qualified yet. We have four points, but I want more than that. It will be difficult if we get through to the knockout phase but so far we have matched two of the best teams in the world."

Regragui reserved special praise for man of the match Hakim Ziyech.

"He is incredible," he said of the Chelsea winger. "A lot of people talk about him, say he is a crazy guy, he is difficult to manage, he can't help the team. What I see is when you give him love and confidence, he will die for you. That's what I give him. He has my confidence and the confidence of the fans."

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