SAINT PETERSBURG — Belgium coach Roberto Martinez believes assistant manager Thierry Henry’s World Cup-winning experience can give his side an advantage when the Frenchman faces his countrymen in Tuesday’s semifinal.
Henry, France’s all-time leading goalscorer, was a member of the squads that won the 1998 World Cup on home soil and Euro 2000 alongside French boss Didier Deschamps.
His presence on the opposition bench has been described by France striker Olivier Giroud as “bizarre,” with the Chelsea man keen to show Henry he has chosen the wrong camp.
Henry joined Martinez’s staff in 2016 and the Spaniard explained how his experience of pressure moments at the business end of tournaments offered something other members of the former Everton manager’s staff could not.
“What we didn’t have was international experience, the know-how of winning a World Cup, the know-how of being a footballer, how you are expected to perform in front of the world and knowing how you feel in those moments,” Martinez said on Monday.
“Thierry Henry brings that as an ex-footballer of elite thoughts. Then he is a coach, his dedication, attention to detail and is trying to help any player in this squad, so he was the perfect missing piece in our technical staff.”
Belgium’s “golden generation” finally delivered a big scalp on the international stage in a thrilling 2-1 win over Brazil in the last eight to erase memories of disappointing quarterfinal exits to Argentina four years ago and at Euro 2016 to surprise package Wales.
Martinez claimed a lot of the credit for the win as his tactical changes worked to perfection, including moving Kevin De Bruyne into a more advanced role.
And De Bruyne praised Martinez for instilling a winning mentality in a Belgian squad that believe their time for a major tournament victory has come.
“He brought us tighter together with more belief of winning it,” said the Manchester City midfielder. “Maybe in the World Cup or Euros (before) some players didn’t have the feeling of winning at all.
“Now there are more feelings of trust in each other to perform better than ever. When you are here, you want to go on till the end.”
Martinez urged his players not to waste the opportunity of a lifetime and become the first Belgian side to reach a World Cup final.
“It’s a unique opportunity for all the team, for all of Belgium, for all the hard work that has been done, not just in the past two years but the last 10 to 15 years developing these young players.” — AFP