Belgium coach lauds De Bruyne
ST PETERSBURG, Russia (AP):
It's not yet clear what role Kevin De Bruyne will play for Belgium in the World Cup semi-final against France.
That's because coach Roberto Martinez believes the Manchester City midfielder is such a talented footballer, he could start virtually anywhere on the field and he'd excel.
"It's essential to have a player like Kevin that he can play different roles," Martinez said yesterday, on the eve of the semi-final. "Apart from goalkeeper, I could tell you that he could not just play, he could perform at the highest level in any position. That's the quality that he has."
And that makes it easier for Martinez to switch tactics which he's frequently prone to do as he attempts to both create chances for his attacking line-up and stifle the threat of speedy France forwards Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.
Belgium is the tournament's top scorer so far with 14 goals. France have nine.
De Bruyne had a relatively quiet start to the tournament by his high standards playing a deeper and more defensive role than he occupies in Manchester.
But the 27-year-old burst on to centre stage in the knockout matches as Martinez pushed him into a more attacking position.
First, his surging run helped set up Nacer Chadli's late winner in the come-from-behind 3-2 defeat of Japan. Then he scored the decisive goal in Belgium's 2-1 victory over Brazil in the quarter-finals with a searing, low shot into the far corner of the net from the edge of the penalty area.
"When he plays in that forward role, when he plays a bit more in the final third his play, his performance, is very, very attractive and maybe then it gets a bigger recognition," Martinez said.
It is the kind of incisive play he displayed all season as Manchester City marched to the English Premier League title. De Bruyne just missed out on end-of-season honours from the players' association and football writers association because of Liverpool and Egypt striker Mohamed Salah's goal glut.
In a Belgium team packed with so much talent that it's known as the Golden Generation, De Bruyne is one of the standouts along with striker Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard.
Whether he plays an attacking role or more defensively, De Bruyne is instrumental in directing Belgium with his awareness and swift passes.
"Kevin De Bruyne is a modern playmaker in the fact that he goes even quicker than what you can see," Martinez said. "His level of execution is exceptional."
Martinez is not the first Belgium coach to be bowled over by De Bruyne.