World Cup 2022 qualifying: Chris Coleman backs Wales ‘bravery’ against Belgium

At least in one part of Wales, he is treated as “one of their own”. An adopted son of Swansea because of his impact on the pitch and then in the dug-out.

It is why the Belgium manager says taking on his one-time homeland will evoke “special memories”.

Yet with a Welsh history still haunting Belgium going into their World Cup qualifying meeting, Martinez is not dwelling on the past after dismissing the notion Wales are Belgium’s bogey team.

For the last four fixtures, Belgium have been left frustrated by Wales. The most recent, the European Championships quarter-final five years ago, clearly left a mark; the word “traumatised” was used by one journalist in the press conference ahead of Wednesday’s game in Leuven.

Since then, Belgium have lost only four times since Martinez was appointed as Marc Wilmots’ replacement in the aftermath of Euro 2016, one of which being the 2018 World Cup-semi-final against eventual winners France.

Ranked No.1 in the world, they are being tipped by many to make up for that loss in Lille by winning Euro 2020 and be among the contenders in Qatar in 2022.

A shock appointment after being sacked by Everton, Martinez contract with the Red Devils has once been extended to take in that tournament, with his role as manager doubled with that of technical director of the Royal Belgian Football Association.

Not bad for the man who stepped off a Chester City team coach on his way to a game to accept the job at Swansea in 2007 with zero managerial experience to his name.

Martinez, who helped Swansea survive relegation from the Football League as a player before winning promotion to the Championship as a manager, laughs when it’s put to him it’s all a long way from the Vetch Field.

“The memories will be always there and it’s part of my life that made me the person I am,” he said.

“As a coach, everything started there in 2007. The manager I am is part of the experiences I had there. It feels a long, long time ago but you don’t forget the memories – you carry those with you.”

There are those aforementioned memories Belgium wish to forget, though.

Aside from Euro 2016, Wales were the last side to beat Belgium in a qualifying fixture. Kevin de Bruyne and may have won 23 and drawn one of the 24 since, but there are still unwanted reminders of Gareth Bale’s winning goal in Cardiff in June 2015.

“I think that’s something from club level – it doesn’t happen in international football,” said Martinez when asked if Wales had become Belgium’s bogey team.

“The stats are just for the outside and the media to prepare the game, but internally there is a lot of continuity that can affect the game.”

Martinez calls it “a brand new encounter” with vice-captain Kevin de Bruyne eager to agree.

“We’ve played them a lot of times in qualification and the last one was tough,” said the Manchester City midfielder, who will captain Belgium in the absence of the injured Eden Hazard.

“But it depends on the group at the time – we played one when we had already qualified [a 1-1 draw in Brussels in October 2013] so it had less meaning.

“This is a very different stage, the first game of a new qualifier, different scenery, totally different players, it’s not comparable to what’s happened in the past.”

De Bruyne also acknowledged that the disappointment of Euro 2016 formed the basis for Belgium’s improvement under Martinez, claiming the run to the last four in Russia 2018 was forged by what happened against Wales.

All under a man whose management style was forged in Wales, the Catalan going from Swansea to Wigan and Everton before his international calling, with coaching badges gained from the Football Association of Wales.

He has often returned to Wales for coaching conferences, relaying his experiences but also seeing first-hand the pathway of young talent to the first team.

“They’ve been working with their playing and philosophy for many years now with different personnel,” he said.

“They have players like the captain (Gareth Bale) with good experience around the new blood coming through with real clarity about how to play because they’ve been doing it in the youth teams.

“So there will be no secrets, from our end or Wales.”

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