Belgium boss Roberto Martinez believes his side are ready to take the next step in their quest for a major trophy after cruising into the knockout stages of Euro 2020 with a third straight win.
An unfortunate own goal from keeper Lukas Hradecky and a late strike from Romelu Lukaku sealed the Belgians’ 2-0 win over Finland, who are left with a slim hope of going through as one of the best third-placed teams.
After finishing third at the World Cup and rising to the top of the world rankings, Martinez is convinced his players are showing glimpses of the kind of form that could take them further.
He told Euro2020.com: “This team has been very consistent over the last five years. It’s now about getting every individual at their very best.
“We were really focused and professional. We defended very well and waited for the first goal. We knew that would open everything up. We were almost there in the first half but we adapted to a difficult team.”
Belgium seldom looked in danger of losing control in a match in which they dominated possession, and despite making eight changes Martinez was keen to see some of his star names earn more minutes.
He was particularly pleased with the form of Eden Hazard after a season dogged by muscle strains, adding: “He pushed himself, got into good positions. He looks free, twisting right and left.
“The next step is now to see Eden with that final pass, that shot that finishes in the back of the net. I was delighted with his performance.”
Finland coach Markku Kanerva admitted disappointment at the final outcome having hoped for much of the evening that his side might muscle in on one of the qualifying slots.
The Finns battled well, but Hradecky’s own goal, when he palmed a Thomas Vermaelen header into his own net, effectively sealed the Finns’ fate, particularly in light of Denmark’s emphatic win over Russia.
Kanerva said: “I’m very proud of the work ethic my players showed today. You saw the quality of Belgium, but I’m extremely proud of the way my players fought.”
Referencing Denmark’s ability to overcome the trauma of Christian Eriksen’s collapse to brush aside Russia, Kanerva acknowledged: “Denmark showed great mental strength.
“I’m proud that we finished ahead of Russia in the tournament, and I don’t know how many people thought we’d go into the last game with the chance of going through. But Denmark deserved second place.”