Belgium are not in “crisis mode” ahead of their crucial World Cup match against Croatia despite rumours of infighting and division in the squad, full-back Timothy Castagne said on Wednesday.
The world’s second-ranked side have to win at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Thursday to be sure of reaching the last 16 after a surprising 2-0 loss to Morocco.
Belgium have reached at least the quarter-finals at each of the past four major tournaments but have struggled in Qatar, labouring to a 1-0 win over Canada in their opener.
However, Leicester defender Castagne said spirits in the camp were high.
“Our confidence isn’t as low as people think,” he said. “We know that we have our destiny in our own hands. It’s true we didn’t play so well in the first two matches but we’re not in crisis mode like some people are saying in the press.”
Belgium will have to push for the win as a draw would leave them needing Morocco to lose heavily to Canada in order for the Belgians to go through.
Morocco, like Croatia, can secure their place in the knockout phase by avoiding defeat.
Kevin De Bruyne said before the Morocco game that Belgium were “too old” to win the tournament, a comment Jan Vertonghen appeared to refer to in an angry post-match interview.
Seven of Belgium’s starting XI against Morocco are in their 30s, while 10 of the 14 players who featured in the 2018 semi-final loss to eventual winners France are still in the squad.
Players held clear-the-air talks for over an hour after the defeat by the north African team.
“I don’t think Kevin meant anything bad by what he said and we know Italy won the Euros with (Leonardo) Bonucci and (Giorgio) Chiellini at the back, so age isn’t always a factor,” said Castagne.
“I don’t think we should be targeting one or two players who have not been playing to the best of their ability. We’re all in this together… I don’t think age is a key factor and I don’t think we played badly because Kevin said that.”
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had already hit out at “invented stories” about the Belgian players and coach Roberto Martinez criticised “fake news” on Wednesday.
“Some people are quite happy to jump on fake news, which is quite astonishing,” said the Spaniard.
“It shows you that maybe there is more desire to find negative news about the team rather than enjoy the best generation of talent that we’ve ever had in Belgian football.
“Whoever’s come up with it (the rumours of an altercation) has scored a great goal, an own goal for Belgium…. Whoever’s done it, is genius.”
Martinez defended his players, who have given Belgium an unprecedented period of success.
Six members of the current squad have won 100 caps or more, with Courtois set to join that club on Thursday.
“This generation is the golden generation of Belgian football, there is no doubt,” said Martinez.
“They got a bronze medal at the 2018 World Cup and kept the national team at the top of the world rankings for four years…. Leaving a legacy goes a lot further than winning a tournament.”
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