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Belgium coach: 'Golden Generation' legacy is already set

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Whether or not Belgium wins its decisive World Cup match against Croatia on Thursday, whether or not the Red Devils go on to finally win a major tournament, coach Roberto Martinez believes the legacy of the team’s “Golden Generation” is already firmly established.

“Leaving a legacy goes a lot further than winning a tournament,” Martinez said Wednesday. “I’m sure you can find national teams that win tournaments and don’t leave a legacy. This group of players deserves respect, deserves admiration for what they’ve done.”

Belgium finished third at the 2018 World Cup and reached the quarterfinals at the last two European Championships. But for a team that was long ranked No. 1 by FIFA, and features standout attacking players like Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, more was expected.

“You’re talking about players that left Belgium very young to go to the (top) European football (clubs). They win trophies and they’re always committed,” said Martinez, who is Spanish. “You’ve got eight players that are above 100 caps. We’ve got (goalkeeper) Thibaut Courtois reaching his 100th cap against Croatia. You got players that they gave their career for the national team.

“This generation is the golden generation of Belgian football,” Martinez added. “There is not a doubt. They got the bronze medal in 2018, they kept the national team four years at the No. 1 spot in the world rankings, (with) a population of 11 million.”

Martinez also noted how most of the players on his aging team have already acquired their professional coaching licenses.

“This generation," he said, “are going to have an effect on Belgian football from a coaching point of view for the next 20 years.”

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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports