AP

Belgium holds players’ meeting after poor start to World Cup

Nov 28, 2022, 7:14 PM | Updated: Nov 29, 2022, 9:21 am

Morocco's Romain Saiss, right, reacts after teammate Abdelhamid Sabiri, not visible, scored a goal ...

Morocco's Romain Saiss, right, reacts after teammate Abdelhamid Sabiri, not visible, scored a goal on Belgium's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, left, during the World Cup group F soccer match between Belgium and Morocco, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Belgium’s squad held a meeting where players aired their “honest” views about how the team can salvage its World Cup campaign, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said Tuesday.

Belgium arrived in Qatar as the No. 2-ranked team and one of the tournament favorites, but was unconvincing in a 1-0 win over Canada before losing to Morocco 2-0 on Sunday.

The team needs to beat Croatia in its final group game on Thursday to guarantee advancing to the last 16.

Courtois and Belgium captain Eden Hazard played down reports of infighting in the squad that surfaced after the Morocco game.

Courtois did say, however, he and his teammates had a frank exchange of views at their training base in Al Rayyan on Monday.

“I did not feel like there were issues, but it is always good to have a meeting all together so everybody can share their thoughts,” the Real Madrid goalkeeper said Tuesday. “This way, everything is sorted and I think that the best thing we can do is to be honest, because on the pitch we have to fight for each other. So being honest is the most important thing.”

There has been plenty of focus on a seemingly off-the-cuff comment by Kevin De Bruyne, the star of the team, in a pre-tournament interview with British newspaper The Guardian.

In it, De Bruyne was asked if Belgium can win the World Cup and he was quoted as saying: “No chance, we’re too old.” Against Canada, Belgium had six players in their 30s in the starting lineup, with four of them having accrued more than 100 international appearances.

One of them is Jan Vertonghen, who appeared to make a reference to De Bruyne’s remark when speaking after the loss to Morocco.

“Where did it go wrong?” Vertonghen said. “We probably also attack badly because we are too old, that must be it now, surely?”

Hazard said he had spoken to De Bruyne and that his long-time teammate “believes in us more than ever.”

“Sometimes in an interview, you say funny things you don’t really mean,” Hazard said. “I think he just wanted to say that we are older than four years ago. And he is right, we are older.

“Everybody is older. The defenders. Us, the midfielders. Thibaut is older than four years ago, it is what it is. I think Kevin is the first to have confidence in this group, otherwise he would not be here.”

Hazard urged his team to play with “no fear” against Croatia, the 2018 World Cup runner-up.

“In two days, it could be our last game, so we have to play with desire to win,” he said. “If we go together on the pitch, 11 players, we can beat Croatia. I know it is going to be difficult, because every game in this World Cup is difficult, but we can do it. With the team we have, we can do it.”

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Belgium holds players’ meeting after poor start to World Cup