MOGI DAS CRUZES, Brazil (AP) — Belgium winger Kevin De Bruyne was helped off the pitch, limping on a lame right ankle. At the same time, Divock Origi was already getting ice treatment on his ankle.
No World Cup opponents were to blame for these knocks, just some very fired up teammates. When a spot on the starting lineup for a World Cup is on the line, no player wants to hold back for perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can make a career.
Belgium is among the nations still waiting for its opening game in Brazil, and that means nerves are more than ever on edge. Everyone wants to secure a spot in Tuesday’s starting lineup against Algeria, and training sessions have been fierce.
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots, known as the Fighting Boar in his playing days, sees the positives, though he hopes the sore ankles don’t turn into real injuries.
“Maybe it went over the edge a couple of times, but I’d rather have this. Everyone has something to prove. Everyone wants to win,” Wilmots said Saturday. A few hours after the training match, Wilmots was relieved to announce “Good news, both will be 100 percent fit for the game against Algeria.”
Then, there were momentary bad vibes between Eden Hazard and Kevin Mirallas, with some pushing and shoving.
The payoff for such a spirit has already been evident at the World Cup.
Ahead of their opening match, Dutch player Arjen Robben took offense at a training tackle from Bruno Martins Indi and it quickly turned into a spat. Such a fighting spirit ran right through the opening match against Spain, when Robben scored two great goals in a 5-1 humiliation of the defending champion.
After Friday’s match, Robben went over to Martins Indi and hugged him and rubbed his head in a clear sign that they’ve well and truly buried the hatchet.
That is the kind of spirit Wilmots is also hoping for.
At first sight, he said, both De Bruyne and Origi should be fine for Sunday’s first training session in Belo Horizonte, two days ahead of the Algeria game. De Bruyne of Wolfsburg has been Belgium’s standout player in qualifying and is expected to start while Origi has been a late addition as an extra striker.
Belgium is a team which can afford a few injuries since it has depth in most positions.
Only two days ago, the full squad of 23 played a training game, and Wilmots admitted that “there should have been a red card, and two yellows.”
What counts, though, is that they are teammates first. Midfielder Moussa Dembele fell with his full weight on Origi by accident and felt bad. “I was so glad when I saw him put his thumb up. I really felt relieved.”
Next time though, Dembele will be going into the same challenge with just as much intensity. “It is part of us. Everybody wants to win, even at training. We have this winning spirit and it comes by itself,” he said.
Just being at the World Cup is prize enough in a 5-a-side training match these days. “Normally, they play for a little prize. It’s for a shirt or a red letter day,” Wilmots said. “And today it was for nothing. You don’t always need something to want to win.”
Mike Corder in Rio contributed to this article.
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