MOSCOW (AP) — Being boring at this year’s World Cup is working out well for Belgium coach Roberto Martinez.
Asked Friday why this Belgian squad is calmer than at previous tournaments — where quarterfinal exits fell short of expectations — Martinez said it’s good to avoid making headlines for off-field issues.
“We do want to be boring,” the coach said. “We’re a football team. We’re not here to bring stories or try to fill pages for the wrong reasons.”
Belgium made a no-fuss start to its World Cup, bringing enough excitement on the field to beat overmatched Panama 3-0.
The No. 3-ranked team is heavily favored to beat Tunisia on Saturday at Spartak Stadium. England is also in Group G and plays Panama on Sunday.
The Spanish coach cut out one potential problem by not taking Radja Nainggolan to Russia. Nainggolan was a fan favorite at the 2016 European Championship team under previous coach Marc Wilmots.
Martinez had a difficult relationship with the Roma midfielder, who played in all five games and scored twice at Euro 2016. A quarterfinal run was judged as an underachievement and cost Wilmots his job.
Martinez does not deal with questions about Nainggolan, leaving one reporter to pose the question to midfielder Axel Witsel.
“I’m here to talk about the match,” Witsel said in French. “Your question has nothing to do with what we’re here for today.”
Shutting down the subject so quickly stuck to the “simplicity and basics” mantra stressed by Martinez, who conducts team business in English.
“We have a real focus on being accountable in your role in the national team,” he said, explaining a clear job for Romelu Lukaku after “a bit of confusion” in previous years.
For Martinez, that means the Manchester United forward getting more goals like the two tidy finishes that followed a volley from Dries Mertens that opened the scoring against Panama. At the 2014 World Cup, Lukaku scored only once to eliminate the United States in the round of 16.
A team-first ethic is more important to Martinez than chasing individual awards like the Golden Boot.
“He will tell you he’s not here to be the top goal scorer of the World Cup,” the coach said of Lukaku, “and that pleases me.”
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