June 10, 2018 / 3:59 PM / 9 days ago

Tunisia could spring a surprise at World Cup, Belgium's Martinez says

TUBIZE, Belgium (Reuters) - Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said Tunisia’s unlucky defeat by his native Spain on Saturday proved the North Africans could be one of the surprises of the World Cup in Russia.

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup - Belgium World Cup Squad Announcement - Belgium Football Centre, Tubize, Belgium - June 4, 2018. Belgium coach Roberto Martinez during the press conference. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Belgium, third in the FIFA rankings, go into the World Cup as Group G favourites, facing Tunisia, England and Panama.

Martinez told reporters Monday’s final warm-up game at home to Costa Rica would be a good test of his side’s ability to cope with less-fancied Panama in their opening group game a week later, before they faced England in Kaliningrad on June 28.

Like the “technically extremely strong” Tunisians, the Central American outsiders could also threaten to disrupt a team packed with top European league talent.

Asked about Tunisia’s 1-0 friendly defeat by Spain, Martinez said on Sunday: “Yesterday, for me, they deserved to win the game... It was just a confirmation that Tunisia could be one of the surprises in the World Cup.”

Monday’s outing in Brussels against Costa Rica, who have also qualified this time and were surprise quarter-finalists in Brazil in 2014, would give Belgium’s team of individual talents a chance to test their collective resilience against a Panama side with nothing to lose in their first ever World Cup finals.

“Maybe Panama get inspiration from what Costa Rica did in 2014 in Brazil,” Martinez said. “There’s no fear in the performances of CONCACAF teams.

“They are quite happy to trust each on the pitch... If we are not a team in difficult moments during the game these teams can really hurt you.”

Martinez stuck by his decision to name his final 23-man squad only 24 hours before the kick-off against Panama in Sochi, giving key defenders Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen maximum time to prove their fitness.

Reporting by Clement Rossignol in Tubize and Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; editing by Clare Fallon

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