Belgium coach Roberto Martinez stepped down on Thursday following his side’s World Cup first-round exit.
Martinez said he had made the decision to end his six-year tenure some time ago and would have left even if they had been crowned champions.
“This was my last game as coach of the national team. That’s emotional,” he said. “I can’t go on. I said goodbye to the players and staff. I was going to stop anyway – whatever happened.
“Even if we had become world champions. I made that decision before the World Cup.”
It ends a long spell in charge of the side in which he took them to number one in the world rankings and third place at the World Cup in Russia.
Belgium missed numerous opportunities to score the goal against Croatia that would have taken them through to the knockout stages, but had to settle for a 0-0 draw and third place in the pool behind Morocco and Croatia.
It summed up a disappointing campaign in which they scored only once across three matches, and made more headlines for reported off-field squabbles than their football on the pitch.
“Today we were ourselves again,” Martinez said. “It is never easy to win a match at a World Cup. In that first match against Canada we won (1-0), but we weren’t ourselves. We deservedly lost that second match against Morocco (2-0). We weren’t ready.
“Today we created a lot of chances, so no, I have no regrets. We can leave the World Cup with our heads held high.”
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Martinez admitted this might be the end for some of the team’s ‘golden generation’ too, but believes he leaves the team with a fresh band of young players to take them forward.
“Players like (Youri) Tielemans, (Amadou) Onana, (Jeremy) Doku … the golden generation have achieved something that should excite future generations. That legacy lives on, and they must continue to set high standards.”
Defender Jan Vertonghen, 35, hinted there had been tensions in the camp, and said that over the three games they were simply not good enough.
“You don’t have to be 26 friends to win,” he said. “I’m very disappointed. We gave everything for Belgium, our group and our coach. But it wasn’t enough. We did not lose it tonight.
“We had a lot of chances, more than in the previous matches put together, but we didn’t succeed. Will I continue myself? Yes.”