Courtois scotches talk of rift


BELGIUM goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois blamed “invented stories” for fuelling rumours of division within the squad as they fight to avoid an early exit in Qatar.

After a 2-0 loss to Morocco, the world’s second-ranked side must beat Croatia today to ensure they don’t head home after the group stage.

“I don’t think there are any problems in the squad. A lot of things have been said but we want to give everything we can on the field on Thursday,” said Courtois.

“The aim of the invented stories is to create a bad atmosphere within the squad. We have to put the negativity to one side and just focus on the positive to prepare for the match.”

Coach Roberto Martinez on Monday admitted there was tension in the squad, but Courtois downplayed reports of infighting between players.

“There were lies that came out of the dressing room. Things that don’t even exist,” said Courtois.

Players held clear-the-air talks for over an hour following the Morocco defeat, which followed an unconvincing 1-0 win over Canada in their opening match in Group F.

“The main problem is seeing things on social media or in newspapers. I didn’t feel like there were problems,” said Courtois.

“It’s good to have had this moment to sort things out. The best thing to do is to be honest together.”

Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen appeared visibly annoyed after the Morocco game with a comment by captain Eden Hazard about the team’s aging defence being too slow.

The last six years have provided the best spell of sustained success in Belgium’s history, but much of the country’s “golden generation” are now in their 30s.

“A lot of things go through my mind now, but those are things that are best not said on camera,” Vertonghen told broadcaster TV Sporza.

“Maybe also we attack badly because the guys (forwards) are too old.”

Hazard insisted there was no issue between himself and Vertonghen, who were both members of the team that finished third at the 2018 World Cup.

“I’ve always got on well with Jan. I wouldn’t dare fight with him, he’s bigger than me. I’m not stupid either,” joked the Real Madrid attacker.

“We know we’re going through a more difficult period than normal, but we’re all united,” he said.

“We had a good meeting yesterday between the players, a lot of things were said. Above all we said that there was still one match to play, that’s the most important thing.

“We said some things, some good, some less good, perhaps some things that didn’t please others – but we spoke.

“Given what was said ... I think we’re going to have 11 warriors, in fact 26 warriors, even those who don’t play.” — AFP

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