Time has come for golden generation to fulfil talent
EURO 2020 GROUP B
ROBERTO MARTINEZ arrived in English football in 1995 as one of Wigan’s ‘Three Amigos’ and another triumvirate of stars has played a crucial role during his five years as Belgium manager. While the Latics were inspired by glamorous Spanish imports Martinez, Jesus Seba and Isidro Diaz, Belgium’s rise to number one in the Fifa rankings owes much to Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard. De Bruyne, a doubt for the start of the tournament due to a facial injury, and Lukaku have enjoyed title-winning campaigns with Manchester City and Inter. However, skipper Hazard has had a tough couple of seasons at Real Madrid, scoring just four goals in 21 La Liga starts. Belgium’s supporting cast is packed with quality, from Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to Leicester’s FA Cup hero Youri Tielemans and Napoli’s record scorer Dries Mertens, although the squad’s age profile suggests this may be the last chance for a golden generation to land silverware. The Red Devils showcased their depth of talent in March’s 8-0 World Cup qualifying win over Belarus and such comprehensive victories have become the norm under Martinez, whose side stormed through Euro 2020 qualifying with ten wins out of ten and a goal difference of +37. Belgium won five of last year’s six Nations League games against Iceland, England and Denmark but blew a great chance of glory at Euro 2016, losing to Wales at the quarter-final stage, but there was no shame in a 1-0 semi-final defeat to France at the World Cup. As Wigan manager, Martinez sprung one of the great FA Cup final shocks, beating Man City in 2013, but it would be far less of a surprise if he lifts another trophy at Wembley this summer.