BRUSSELS • Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has defended Thibaut Courtois following his error on Thursday, which led to an equaliser during the 3-1 win over Russia in their Euro 2020 Group I qualifier at Brussels’ King Baudouin Stadium.
Captain Eden Hazard scored twice for Belgium to spare the blushes of his goalkeeper, who gifted Russia’s Denis Cheryshev a soft goal when he failed to clear the ball in time.
“After that incident, you could see why Thibaut is the No. 1 in the world,” Martinez said in a press conference after the match.
“He played as if nothing had happened and remained icy calm.
“Impressive, the way he reacted after his mistake. Credit to Russia for that counter goal. At times they put a lot of pressure, so we made the wrong decision at the time.”
Youri Tielemans opened the scoring with his first international goal before Hazard netted his brace to clinch the three points for Belgium.
Martinez’s men led as early as the 15th minute when Timothy Castagne’s pass fed Tielemans on the edge of the box and, as Russia’s defensive line opened up, the Leicester midfielder fired a low shot past goalkeeper Guilherme Marinato.
But their lead lasted barely a minute before Courtois made his error.
The Real Madrid custodian dallied in possession following a back-pass and, when pressed into action, he gave the ball straight to Cheryshev on the edge of the box and the winger, who scored four goals at last year’s World Cup, finished into an empty net.
He was, however, unfazed and insisted after the match that such instances do not happen often for him.
“I don’t think I’ve made many mistakes in my career, so if you make one, you’re obviously not happy,” said the 26-year-old .
“I am satisfied with the victory and also with the game I played after my foul. I remained calm, I am happy with that. There is no problem.”
Striker Michy Batshuayi was asked by Martinez to lead the line in the absence of the injured Romelu Lukaku, while the Hazard brothers, Eden and Thorgan, played together for only the third time in a national team shirt.
“I enjoyed myself tonight. I take a lot of pleasure from this victory, in which I scored two goals,” said skipper Hazard.
“After our last game against Switzerland (a 5-2 Nations League defeat), we had to respond in front of our own fans.”