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."

A superb second-half performance from Morocco secured a famous 2-0 World Cup victory against Belgium at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday.

Victory for Roberto Martinez's side would have seen the 2018 semi-finalists become the second side to book their spot in the knockout stage, alongside France, but the Red Devils fell short.

Having seen a first-half free-kick from Hakim Ziyech disallowed, the same tactic provided dividends in the second period as Abdelhamid Sabiri put Morocco on course for just a third win in their World Cup history.

The win was then secured in the final minutes of the game, Zakaria Aboukhlal smashing home from close range after Ziyech's fine work.

Belgium saw the majority of possession early on and dictated play, Michy Batshuayi forcing an early save from Munir Mohamedi, who came into the side as a very late change for Yassine Bounou.

Having been on the back foot for the majority, Morocco thought they had scored on the brink of half-time as Ziyech's free-kick found its way into the net, but Romain Saiss was offside and adjudged to have blocked Thibaut Courtois' line of sight.

Lightning struck twice for Martinez's side after the break, as Sabiri whipped in a dangerous free-kick to the near post which found its way past Courtois and, while Saiss was again in the proximity, there was no offside flag to save Belgium this time.

Any hope of a late fightback from Belgium was wiped away in added time, Ziyech winning the ball off a poor touch from Axel Witsel and teeing up for Aboukhlal to smash home.

Roberto Martinez will expect a vast improvement from his Belgium side when they go in search of a record-breaking World Cup win over Morocco on Sunday.

The Red Devils were fortunate to beat Canada 1-0 in their first match of the tournament on Wednesday courtesy of a clinical finish from Michy Batshuayi.

Canada were the better side and Alphonso Davies had a penalty saved by Thibaut Courtois before Batshuayi secured all three points.

Belgium looked shaky at the back and got away with a lacklustre performance, Canada failing to find the back of the net with 22 attempts in the opening match of only their second World Cup.

But if Belgium beat Morocco, they will become the first team in World Cup history to win nine consecutive group games.

Morocco held Croatia to a goalless draw in their first Group F match and are plotting to spring a surprise at Al Thumama Stadium this weekend.

The Atlas Lions have injury concerns over Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazraoui for the encounter in Doha.

Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has been back in training as he works his way back from a thigh injury, with head coach Martinez having stated no timeframe has been set on when he might return

Kevin De Bruyne says even if the Red Devils' all-time record goalscorer is only able to take his place on the bench, that would give the squad a lift.

The inspirational midfielder said: "I don’t know how he is, he has been training with us and also apart these days.

"I must admit that he is a player who helps the team a lot, you can feel his presence on the pitch. 

"I don't even know if he will be there against Morocco, but if he were to start from the bench he would be an extra weapon in the game."

Belgium are unbeaten in their four World Cup meetings with African teams and came out on top when the two nations met at the 1994 showpiece, Marc Degryse scoring the only goal of the game.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Belgium - Michy Batshuayi

In the absence of Lukaku, Batshuayi stepped up to get Belgium off to a winning start as they rode their luck in midweek.

He had five of Belgium’s nine shots and was the only player to register an attempt on goal for the Red Devils before being replaced in the 78th minute.

If Belgium can exert more control on the game, Batshuayi is capable of rewarding them as he should be full of confidence after his decisive strike.

Morocco - Hakim Ziyech

A lack of goals has been a big issue for Morocco in World Cup matches, with the stalemate versus Croatia being the ninth time in 17 games they have failed to find the back of the net.

Hakim Ziyech is one of the players who is capable of getting them firing in Qatar, where he had two shots and created as many chances against Croatia.

The Chelsea winger has shown he can has the quality to produce moments of magic with his wand of a left foot, which Belgium will be wary of.

PREDICTION

Belgium will be expected to make it two wins out of two despite an uninspiring start.

According to Stats Perform's AI model, Martinez's men have a 48.7 per cent chance of securing a record-breaking victory.

Morocco will have seen weaknesses to exploit in that Belgium display against the Canadians and they are rated as having a 26 per cent chance of pulling off a shock victory, with the draw at 25.3 per cent.

Romelu Lukaku is on course to return to action before the end of the World Cup's group stage, according to Belgium boss Roberto Martinez, though he is unlikely to face Morocco on Sunday.

Lukaku was absent as Belgium overcame a lively Canada side 1-0 on Wednesday, having struggled with a thigh injury since returning to Inter on a season-long loan from Chelsea. 

Michy Batshuayi proved a capable deputy against Canada, scoring the winner and posting a team-high tally of five shots, but Belgium's record goalscorer is making good progress in his recovery.

While Martinez is determined not to rush Lukaku back, he views Thursday's final Group F fixture against Croatia as a realistic target for the 29-year-old's comeback.

"Medically, Romelu was only available for the third game and I think we'll carry on with that, but he's ahead of where he should be," Martinez said at Saturday's pre-match press conference.

"He's trained twice with the group and the signs are very good.

"We need to see how he reacts today and then he's going to have another training session. 

"I don't expect him to be involved tomorrow unless something goes extremely well today, and it'd be a little bit of adaptation to be with the group, [he would not be] 100 per cent at the start. That's where he is. 

"The lineup is important but there are two lineups in this World Cup. Five subs means you have a lineup at the start and a lineup at the end.

"What's important for me is that every player who comes on the pitch has an impact, an understanding and the opportunity to enjoy the World Cup. 

"In the first half against Canada we were very, very, very below par. The second half was an improvement, and it's important that we use our players to help the team depending on how our game goes. 

"If you ask me, the game tomorrow is about controlling and being able to be ourselves until the end. 

"Whoever's going to be on the pitch depends on the moment, how the players are [in training] and how I get the feeling the players are getting ready for the game."

Belgium will seal qualification for the round of 16 if they beat Morocco, and they are also bidding to become the first nation in history to win nine consecutive group games at the World Cup.

Eden Hazard accepts Belgium had a better chance of winning the World Cup when their 'golden generation' was at its peak in 2018.

Belgium enjoyed their best World Cup showing four years ago in Russia as they finished third following a 1-0 defeat to eventual winners France in the semi-finals.

But after then losing to Italy in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020, there is a perception Belgium's greatest generation of players has missed its chance of winning a major trophy.

While their squad in Qatar includes many familiar names and several members of the 'golden generation', it is widely accepted most of them are past their best, with the unconvincing 1-0 win over Canada doing little to disprove that notion.

Hazard, who himself is 31 and has had a nightmare with injuries while at Real Madrid over the past three years, is realistic about Belgium's chances, but was keen to remind critics that Roberto Martinez's team still have plenty in their arsenal.

"To be fair, I think we had a better chance four years ago," he told reporters ahead of Belgium's second Group F game against Morocco.

"The team was better four years ago, but we still have the quality to win games, win competitions.

"We have a few guys who are a bit older now but we have experience, we have the best goalkeeper [Thibaut Courtois] in the world, and like I said before, we have one of the best midfields in the world right now, we also have good strikers.

"We are a complete team and I think it's just [we need to show] the desire if we want to win, it's just mentality things.

"We have to enjoy moments, play our game, have fun on the pitch, try to win and then we'll see what happens."

Belgium were roundly criticised for their performance against Canada, particularly after being outplayed in the first half.

 

At the end of the game, Canada – who saw an Alphonso Davies penalty saved by Courtois – had accumulated 2.63 expected goals (xG) to Belgium's 0.77, highlighting just how much of a greater threat John Herdman's side carried.

One recurring theme from that match was apparent tension between De Bruyne and Toby Alderweireld, who were involved in on-pitch spats with each other at least twice.

De Bruyne explained after the game that his frustration stemmed from a belief Belgium – and Alderweireld – were looking for the long ball too often, but Martinez was quick to shut down any suggestion of there being a major problem between them.

"We shouldn't try to get an issue where there's no issue," he added. "You've got two experienced players, they've played – if I'm not wrong – over 70 games together for the national team.

"This is not a young player coming into the team, I think there's a real understanding as a team you need to find what the opponent gives you and at times you play through the lines with pressure, sometimes there's spaces in behind, making the right decisions, and when you do that it's important because you need to react as a team.

"There's no issue there, they're two players who are winners and they want to perform well and they take responsibility, as a team that's where we're working.

"We need to know when we're doing one aspect and when doing the other we do as a team, but it's not an issue at all."

Romelu Lukaku is unlikely to start Belgium's second World Cup fixture against Morocco despite making his return to team training, according to head coach Roberto Martinez.

Lukaku has only made five appearances for Inter during an injury-hit season, and he was absent as Belgium began their Group F campaign with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Canada on Wednesday.

While Martinez hopes Belgium's all-time leading goalscorer will return against Morocco at the Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday, the Nerazzurri striker may have to settle for a place on the bench.

"Today, he trained with the group, now we'll see how his body will react," the head coach said. "I don't think he's ready to go from the start against Morocco, but we'll find that out over the next two days. 

"But he seems to be doing well, and I'm happy to see him again at group training."

Should Belgium beat Walid Regragui's side next time out, they will become the first team in World Cup history to win nine consecutive group games at the tournament.

Belgium are also unbeaten in their four previous World Cup meetings with African teams (won three, drawn one), beating Tunisia 5-2 in their last such contest in 2018.

Eden Hazard has told Germany's players to stick to the football rather than protesting after Hansi Flick's men fell to a shock 2-1 loss against Japan in their Qatar 2022 opener.

Germany's starting line-up covered their mouths in protest during their pre-match team photo on Wednesday over FIFA's response to the OneLove campaign.

Football's governing body warned any teams that backed the anti-discrimination initiative faced sanctions, including a yellow card for captains who sported OneLove armbands.

However, Die Mannschaft warmed up for the Japan match wearing training shirts featuring rainbow-coloured trim in another apparent show of support for LGBTQ+ rights.

While the stance of the Germany players was widely praised, Belgium and Real Madrid forward Hazard believes they should leave non-footballing matters for others.

"They lost the match," Hazard told reporters. "They would have been better off not doing it and winning. 

"We're here to play football. I'm not here to pass on a political message, there are people who are better placed for that. We want to concentrate on the football."

Germany and Belgium were two of seven European teams that had planned to wear the specially designed armbands in Qatar, where same-sex relationships are criminalised.

Asked about his own stance on the issue, and whether he would have liked to have shown his support, Hazard said: "I'm not at ease talking about it. I'm here to play football.

"We were kind of forbidden from... I didn't want to start the match with a yellow card; it would have been annoying for the rest of the tournament.

"If I were to redo it, maybe I would wear it."

Quickfire late goals from Ritsu Doan and fellow substitute Takuma Asano gave Japan victory over Germany after Ilkay Gundogan had opened the scoring from the penalty spot.

Belgium dodged an upset in their opening group match, meanwhile, as Michy Batshuayi's strike earned them a 1-0 win over Canada at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium.

Belgium "need to improve" if they are to stand a realistic chance of going deep at the 2022 World Cup, according to defender Toby Alderweireld.

It was Alderweireld's long pass that created the only goal of the game for Michy Batshuayi as Belgium struggled to make much headway against an athletic and well-drilled Canada team.

Alphonso Davies saw an early penalty saved by Red Devils goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Canada also squandered a host of first-half chances as Belgium held on to a precious win to take an early lead at the top of Group F.

Alderweireld said: "We didn't play our best game, but we fought hard, especially in the second half and it's better to improve things with three points in the bag than no points.

"We weren't good enough on the ball, we didn't create the right spaces and in the second half we could have hurt them a lot more. Our last pass has to be a lot better.

"The first step is to get through but we need to improve."

Alderweireld's sentiments were shared by fellow defender Timothy Castagne, who felt Canada's no-fear approach made them tricky opponents.

The Leicester City full-back said: "We were expecting that, it's not easy to play against.

"We tried to play through them but we could not find the free men. When we did, we had some good opportunities but couldn't finish them.

"We can thank Thibaut for keeping us in the game first half. After that we defended pretty strong together, which hasn't always been our strongest suit so that's good."

With Argentina and Germany having already lost in Qatar to unheralded opponents, Castagne was just pleased Belgium avoided joining the ranks of beaten favourites, adding: "If you get the win, you get confidence even if it wasn't our best game.

"Some big teams have lost so it's good to get off to a good start points-wise."

While Belgium were relieved, it was a night of pride and frustration for Canada. They emerged with enormous credit, inspired by the shrewd leadership of head coach John Herdman, but will rue their profligacy in front of goal.

Defender Steven Vitoria said: "We deserved more against a world-class side. When we play like that we'll be a lot closer to winning than anything else. It was a fantastic performance but at this level you have to get the win.

"The intention is to be fearless on the biggest stage, this is a new Canada and we gave that statement to the world. But no excuses, we're here to win and we're not satisfied."

Michy Batshuayi scored the only goal as Belgium scraped past a spirited Canada 1-0 in their 2022 World Cup opener at the Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium.

Leading the line in Romelu Lukaku’s absence, Batshuayi's 44th-minute strike was enough to settle a nervy Group F clash in the Red Devils' favour.

Roberto Martinez's side were grateful to Thibaut Courtois, who saved an early Alphonso Davies penalty, as they generally struggled against the nation ending their 36-year absence from the finals.

Nevertheless, Belgium stretched their group-stage winning streak to eight matches, with no side enjoying a longer run in the competition's history (level with Brazil).

Belgium endured a shaky start against the Canucks, who were awarded a penalty when VAR ruled Yannick Carrasco had handled Tajon Buchanan's shot in the box, but Courtois guessed correctly to keep out Davies' tame spot-kick by diving to his right.

The first coach to guide a nation to both the women's and men's World Cups, John Herdman saw his side continue to carry the greater attacking threat. Alistair Johnston stung Courtois' palms with a fierce strike, while Buchanan and Atiba Hutchinson were off target.

But Belgium snatched the lead against the run of play just before half-time; Batshuayi latching onto Toby Alderweireld's long ball before firing past Milan Borjan.

Though they edged possession, Belgium continued to look off their game as they registered just one shot on target after the break.

Canada looked to capitalise with the introduction of top scorer Cyle Larin, whose header called Courtois into action with 10 minutes remaining, but they were unable to find an equaliser as their opponents held on for a narrow victory.

What does it mean? Belgium struggle against spirited Canada

Although far from their fluent best, Belgium moved to the Group F summit following Croatia's goalless draw with Morocco earlier on.

Despite the defeat, it was a historic day for Canada, who returned to the finals after 36 years away and were unfortunate not to break their duck after Davies' saved penalty.

Meanwhile, captain Hutchinson became the oldest outfield starter in World Cup history – aged 39 years and 288 days.

Batshuayi steps up

With Lukaku's return date uncertain, Batshuayi stepped up to the plate with his 27th international goal in 49 caps – moving him joint-sixth with Joseph Mermans on his country's all-time list.

The Fenerbahce forward's well-taken strike came from one of five shots on goal – a tally only bettered on the night by Canada's Jonathan David (six)

History for Courtois

No player has appeared more times for Belgium at a major tournament than Courtois (23, level with Jan Ceulemans).

The Real Madrid goalkeeper also edged closer to becoming the Red Devils' seventh centurion by earning his 98th cap, and he celebrated the milestone with a clean sheet, as well as superb reflexes to deny Davies from the spot.

What's next?

Both sides are back in Group F action on Sunday. Belgium will look to produce an improved performance against Morocco, while Canada cannot afford another defeat against 2018 finalists Croatia.

Roberto Martinez has revealed Romelu Lukaku will miss Belgium's World Cup opener against Canada and may not play any part in the group stage.

The striker has endured a frustrating start to his second spell with Inter after returning on a season-long loan from Chelsea.

Lukaku has made only five appearances for the Serie A club this season, spending two months on the sidelines with a thigh injury before suffering another setback last month.

The Red Devils' record goalscorer is not ready for the encounter with Canada at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Wednesday and Martinez says there are no guarantees he will be ready for the Group F matches against Morocco and Croatia.

The Belgium head coach said on Tuesday: "We're very happy the way that he is progressing. He had a very good session yesterday, not with a group, but is progressing in a steady way. We haven't got a timeline.

"I wouldn't be able to tell if he's going to be the second game or the third game. If I follow the medical advice, at this point it would be the third game. If I follow how the player feels, probably we’ve got a chance for the second game."

Eden Hazard has also had fitness issues since making a big-money move to Real Madrid, where he has failed to make the impact that was expected of him.

Martinez is backing his captain to show what he can do on the international stage once again.

"It's been a tough situation in terms of the playing minutes," the Spaniard said. "We are a better team when Eden Hazard is in our dressing room, that's for sure."

Canada will go into their World Cup opener against Belgium with "belief, not hope", according to midfielder Jonathan Osorio.

The North Americans defied expectations to top the final group of CONCACAF qualifying - ahead of the United States and Mexico - and earn an automatic qualifying place at Qatar 2022, and Osorio is confident of creating more surprises.

A clash with a Belgium side featuring the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois is a baptism of fire in their first World Cup appearance in 36 years but Osorio is ready to defy expectations in the Group F fixture at Al Rayyan Stadium.

He told the Vancouver Sun: "We don't hope any more, we believe. We're very confident in ourselves. We want to show that we are a football nation, that we can compete with the best in the world.

"We want to surprise people, because I think people still see us as underdogs; Canada and the World Cup, they should just be happy to be here.

"But that's not our mentality. We're here to compete, to compete at a high level. We believe within our group, with the quality that we have and our brotherhood we can go as far as we want to go."

Canada's England-born coach John Herdman, who could be without star full-back Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich due to a hamstring strain, was also in bullish mood, adding: "I think, internally, Canada is starting to expect things from us.

"If you go to France, Germany, Italy, England, Brazil, Argentina they'll ask 'who's Canada?' But I think internally, as a country, we've started to believe things are possible, and it's just the same mentality - one game at a time."

Much of Belgium's build-up has surrounded the fitness of striker Romelu Lukaku who is set to miss the first two games in Qatar after suffering a recurrence of a hamstring strain.

Former Belgium captain Vincent Kompany, now boss of Burnley in the English Championship, understands why Roberto Martinez opted to take a gamble on the fitness of the Inter man.

Kompany missed the entire group stage at the 2018 World Cup and only returned for the knockout phase as the Red Devils finished third.

He told Het Nieuwsblad: "I didn't play in the group stage because I had injured my hamstrings in a friendly match in preparation for the World Cup.

"Going along injured looks strange during the group stage, but once you're further into the tournament, you need players who make the difference and can help win matches.

"Even if Lukaku can only play in one game against those bigger teams, his presence makes sense. I understand the decision. Match winners are everything in this competition."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Belgium - Kevin De Bruyne

The Manchester City midfield maestro is the man Canada must try to keep quiet.

He has 155 goal involvements in just 224 Premier League appearances and a range of passing that can torment any defence. He will miss Lukaku's physical presence - as both a target and a creator of space - but De Bruyne still possesses the weapons to make a difference.

Canada - Jonathan David

David may play a little further forward than De Bruyne but his statistics are similar. In 15 games in Ligue 1 for Lille this season, the 22-year-old has contributed nine goals and three assists. Destined to join one of Europe's big guns at the end of the season, David will hope to use the World Cup as a springboard.

PREDICTION

It impossible to look past Belgium, despite the obvious confidence Canada gleaned from their impressive qualifying campaign. Stats Perform's AI model gives Belgium a 62.2 per cent chance of opening with a win, with Canada's hopes rated at just 17.4 per cent.

If De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Co. find their range it could be a very long night for Canada.

Alphonso Davies has been declared fit by head coach John Herdman for Canada's clash with Belgium on their return to the World Cup stage.

The Bayern Munich left-back's participation in Qatar was in doubt after he sustained a hamstring injury against Hertha Berlin on November 5.

Davies sat out Bayern's final two matches prior to the mid-season break and Herdman said at the weekend he was unsure exactly when the 22-year-old would return.

However, in a huge boost for Canada ahead of Wednesday's Group F showdown with Belgium at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Herdman has confirmed Davies is ready to feature.

"You've just got to go through the algorithms they put in front of you to progress to hit top speed, which he's hit," Herdman said at Tuesday's pre-match press conference.

"He's been clear he wanted to play. He's been in full training and got that big smile on his face, so that's great.

"I don't think there'd be any doubt we'd be starting him, but you've got to follow the medical advice. Our goal first and foremost is always the safety of the players.

"As a coach you're always frustrated when you get the reports in and all the algorithms on returning to play, what they can and can't do and loadings, et cetera.

"But when you speak to the player you have to look into their eyes and get a sense of what they want, how far they're willing to push, and you've got to ask the questions.

"If not the first game, then what's the risk for the second game? At the end of the day, he's fit now, he's hit his markers, he's ready to go. He was flying in training yesterday."

 

Canada are back at the World Cup following a 36-year absence – the second-longest gap between participations of any nation at this year's tournament behind only Wales (64 years).

The Reds topped their CONCACAF qualifying group while scoring the most goals in the final round (23) and conceding the fewest (seven).

Herdman also provided positive updates on the fitness of Stephen Eustaquio and Milan Borjan ahead of facing a Belgium side ranked second in FIFA's world rankings.

"I think we're in a position now where we can field our strongest team," he said. "Everyone's come through training. 

"It's exciting times for us now – the dark clouds have shifted. This is our last training session together and we'll all be 100 per cent."

Canada lost their only previous meeting with Belgium 2-0 in an Ottawa friendly 33 years ago.

Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen was bemused by FIFA's decision to ban several European teams from wearing the OneLove armband – an anti-discriminatory symbol – at the World Cup.

The OneLove campaign, which promotes "inclusion and sends a message against discrimination of any kind", had grown in significance ahead of the tournament in Qatar, partly due to the country's criminalisation of homosexuality.

Belgium were one of seven European teams to back the initiative, which involved captains wearing a special OneLove armband that features a multi-coloured heart.

But after discussions between FIFA and an alliance of football associations – England, Wales, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands – a joint statement was released on Monday confirming all teams had pulled out due to the governing body's threat to book players wearing the armband.

FIFA has received widespread criticism as a result of their stance, while the countries in question have attracted flak for wilting under pressure.

Vertonghen seemed perplexed by FIFA opposing messages of solidarity.

Speaking ahead of Belgium's Group F opener against Canada on Wednesday, Vertonghen said: "It's a tough question. If it's too late [to make a statement against discrimination], I don't know. If you make a statement now by wearing it, that would mean punishing yourself.

"But now I'm afraid to say anything. I don't feel comfortable saying anything, and that's telling enough, that we are put under pressure.

"That's a regrettable situation that I've never experienced in football and I hope I won't experience again.

"We are being controlled and I don't really like making political statements anyway, but if you can't even wear a captain's armband with normal messages like 'no to racism', or 'no to discrimination', then hey, then what [can you say]?

"I shouldn't be saying anything about it because tomorrow I want to appear at the game. It's a pity that we have been put in this situation, and I want to leave it at that."

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez was also asked about the ban of the OneLove armband, and while he did not offer an opinion on it, he emphasised the work his team have put in familiarising themselves with the controversies surrounding Qatar's hosting of the tournament.

"As a federation and group we've been proactive for last two years, it's not a case of arriving and then catching up on what's happening. We respected everyone's views, worked together with professionals who knew the situations," Martinez said.

"Yesterday there was a clear statement by the federations, and at this point we just want to talk about football, we're desperate to be on the pitch.

"We just want to create a wonderful story, story of a lifetime. That's the only thing we want to be focusing on now."

England and six other nations have confirmed their players will not wear the OneLove armband at the World Cup.

The move comes after FIFA threatened to book captains if they broke regulations and made their own statements on social issues, rather than following guidelines from the game’s governing body.

OneLove, which promotes "inclusion and sends a message against discrimination of any kind", has grown in significance in the build-up to the tournament in Qatar, a country in which homosexuality is illegal.

But, following extensive discussions between FIFA and an alliance of football associations – England, Wales, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands – the armband will now not be worn.

A joint statement read: "FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play.

"As national federations, we can't put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings, so we have asked the captains not to attempt to wear the armbands in FIFA World Cup games.

"We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play.

"We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented – we wrote to FIFA in September informing them of our wish to wear the One Love armband to actively support inclusion in football, and had no response.

"Our players and coaches are disappointed – they are strong supporters of inclusion and will show support in other ways."

England open their World Cup campaign against Iran later on Monday.

In a separate statement, the Dutch FA (KNVB) – the OneLove campaign originated in the Netherlands - expressed its anger and disappointment at FIFA's stance.

It read: "The KNVB and the players of the Dutch national team would like to convey a positive message with OneLove and against all forms of discrimination.

"We wanted to do that at the World Cup together with England, Wales, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark.

"The UEFA working group, of which the KNVB is part, asked FIFA on September 19 to embrace the OneLove captain's armband. Today, hours before the first match, FIFA has (officially) made it clear to 

us that the captain will receive a yellow card if he wears the OneLove captain's armband.

"We deeply regret that is has not been possible to reach a reasonable solution together.

"We stand with the OneLove message and continue to carry it out, but our first priority at the World Cup is to win matches. You don't want the captain to start the match by getting a yellow card. That is why we had to decide with pain in our hearts - as a UEFA working group, the KNVB and as a team – to abandon our plan.

"As previously announced, the KNVB would have paid a possible fine for wearing the OneLove captain's armband but that FIFA would punish us for this on the field was not expected.

"This goes against the spirit of our sport which connects millions of people. In the coming period, together with the other countries involved, we will take a critical look at our relationship with FIFA."

England and six other nations have confirmed their players will not wear the OneLove armband at the World Cup.

The move comes after FIFA threatened to book captains if they broke regulations and made their own statements on social issues, rather than following guidelines from the game’s governing body.

OneLove, which promotes "inclusion and sends a message against discrimination of any kind", has grown in significance in the build-up to the tournament in Qatar, a country in which homosexuality is illegal.

But, following extensive discussions between FIFA and an alliance of football associations – England, Wales, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands – the armband will now not be worn.

A joint statement read: "FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play.

"As national federations, we can't put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings, so we have asked the captains not to attempt to wear the armbands in FIFA World Cup games.

"We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play.

"We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented – we wrote to FIFA in September informing them of our wish to wear the One Love armband to actively support inclusion in football, and had no response.

"Our players and coaches are disappointed – they are strong supporters of inclusion and will show support in other ways."

England open their World Cup campaign against Iran later on Monday.

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