Tearful Roberto Martinez steps down as Belgium boss following World Cup exit

Spaniard's contract expires at the conclusion of the tournament in Qatar and he said he would not seek an extension following draw with Croatia

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An emotional Roberto Martinez fought back tears as he confirmed his Belgium’s 0-0 draw with Croatia that saw them exit the World Cup on Thursday was his last in charge of the national team.

The 49-year-old Spaniard's contract expires at the conclusion of the tournament in Qatar and he said he would not seek an extension.

Martinez, who led Belgium to a third-placed finish at Russia 2018 after taking on the role in 2016, was asked if the hugs he gave his players after being held by Croatia were “goodbye hugs”.

“Yes, that was my last game with the national team,” the former Everton and Wigan Athletic boss said. “This is emotional, as you can imagine. I can’t carry on [answering], sorry.”

When asked if he was sorry to have bowed out on a disappointing note, Martinez added: “I never look at it that way. I’m a person who likes to build things.

“I’ve been six years with the national team. I arrived with a clear job of qualifying for the World Cup and you get so engaged with the project and the people behind the players.

“And then we finished with a bronze medal [at Russia 2018] and it felt that we had to give it another go and it’s been a real joy.

“We’ve been able to build a real legacy, and I know a lot of people say you can only build legacy by winning a major tournament, but I see it in a different way. I’m so proud of these players.”

Roberto Martinez hugs Timothy Castagne following Belgium's 0-0 draw with Croatia that saw them exit the 2022 World Cup. Getty Images

Belgium finished third in Group F, behind winners Morocco and Croatia, having previously beaten Canada 1-0 before losing 2-0 to the North Africans.

When explaining what had gone wrong in Qatar, Martinez said: “I think it’s very clear. You come to the World Cup and you have to play three games and we only played one.

“The first games we were fearful, not the team that we are. We listened to the outside noise, we were feeling the responsibility. We played thinking if we lose a game we could be out and that’s what cost us.

“Today was a performance and I felt we were the better team. We created better chances. Croatia are a great side and I felt today, had we gone through, you would have seen the real Belgium.”

Croatia, who had drawn 0-0 with Morocco and beaten Canada 4-1, finished second in Group F and will face Japan in the last 16 following Thursday’s dramatic conclusion to Group E.

Head coach Zlatko Dalic congratulated his players on reaching the knockout phase and admitted his side had enjoyed good fortune.

Dalic said: “I certainly expected a difficult match against a great team. Belgium cannot play three matches in a row in a very bad manner and this was a decisive match.

“But Croatia were great, especially in the first hour. We had a clear penalty, but VAR ruled against us.

“It is to be expected that a team such as Belgium would have certain chances and I must be honest and say that we were also lucky, they didn’t take their chances in the end.”

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic. Reuters
Updated: December 02, 2022, 6:52 AM