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Belgium coach Martinez leaving team after World Cup exit

Football
 Belgium's head coach Roberto Martinez embraces Belgium's Jeremy Doku after their team was defeated at the World Cup group F soccer match between Croatia and Belgium at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Roberto Martinez is leaving as coach of Belgium’s national team following Thursday’s World Cup exit.

“That was my last game for the national team,” the Spaniard said after a 0-0 draw with Croatia led to the team’s elimination from the tournament in Qatar.

Martinez coached Belgium to a third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup. He was in charge of the team for six years.

Martinez said he made the decision to leave “before the World Cup.”

“I always work in the long term. I believe in the long term,” he said, fighting off tears. “Since 2018, I had many opportunities to leave and take jobs at the club level. But I wanted to stay loyal.

“I am not resigning,” Martinez added. “I’ve reached the end of my contract.”

Martinez’s exit coincides with the likely breakup of Belgium’s “Golden Generation,” an era featuring standout attacking players like Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens.

The team was ranked No. 1 by FIFA for four years during Martinez’s tenure but never won a major tournament.

“I’m a person who likes to build things,” he said. “I arrived with the clear job of qualifying for the World Cup and participating in the World Cup. ... Then we finish with the bronze medal and I felt I wanted to give it another go.“It’s been a real joy being able to build an incredible legacy. I know some people only see a legacy by winning a major tournament. I see it in a different way.”

Martinez played and coached in England before he was hired by Belgium in 2016, and he still lives in England.

In addition to his coaching duties, Martinez was also appointed technical director by the Belgian soccer federation in 2020, giving him more managerial responsibility for the country’s national teams.

“We thank Roberto Martínez for everything he achieved with this Golden Generation, as a coach as well as a technical director,” Belgian soccer federation CEO Peter Bossaert said. “Roberto left an immense legacy for the next Belgian football generations.”

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