MOSCOW (Reuters) - Belgium coach Roberto Martinez will field a much-changed side against England in their final World Cup Group G clash, resting a starting 11 who have all but qualified after scoring eight goals in two games.
“It will be major changes against England,” Martinez told reporters after Saturday’s 5-2 thumping of Tunisia in Moscow that means the Belgians will be sure of reaching the last 16 if Panama, whom they beat 3-0, fail to beat England on Sunday.
Injuries to striker Romelu Lukaku and his two forward support men did not seem to trouble the Spaniard, but given a lack of recovery time he is planning on giving match time to others in the 23-man squad.
Martinez insisted he was giving no thought to whether it might be better to finish second rather than top the group, which carries a risk of running into Brazil or Germany in the quarter-finals.
“Football has got a strange knack of punishing you when you don’t treat things professionally,” he said.
Lukaku, who scored twice but went off on the hour after picking up an ankle, will be assessed on Sunday. Michy Batshuayi, who came on for the last 20 minutes and scored, could cover for him.
Captain Eden Hazard, who won and scored the sixth-minute penalty that forced Tunisia to open up as they chased three points, said he felt a twinge in his calf and he was also substituted.
Dries Mertens, replaced for the last five minutes by youngster Youri Tielemans, is also carrying an ankle injury.
Martinez pronounced himself satisfied with a performance which he said had shown further evidence of the team playing as a unit.
“Today we’re allowed to celebrate,” he said of the first time the country had scored five goals in a World Cup match. “The whole of Belgium should celebrate.”
But Belgians are wary, having started tournaments strongly before only to fail, as they did at the last World Cup and at Euro 2016, in the quarter-finals.
“It was a great game to watch as a neutral but that doesn’t mean that we are the finished article. There are very many things that we need to work on,” Martinez said. “And our work will start tomorrow morning.”
He cited a failure to manage the game after going ahead 2-0, letting Tunisia pull one back quickly from a set-piece.
But overall, he underlined a more cohesive performance from players who have long shown their individual talents at club level but have under-achieved as a group for their country:
“What we saw was a team prepared to suffer, prepared to work for each other and we look well balanced in that respect,” said Martinez. “When you’ve got that, then the individuals can show their talent ... Today I was delighted with the attitude.
“Talent on its own is not enough.”
Reporting by Alastair Macdonald, editing by Ed Osmond