Roberto Martinez praised Belgium’s history-makers and hopes their best-ever World Cup can be the catalyst to even bigger things.
The so-called ‘Golden Generation’ surpassed the heroes of 1986 on Saturday by winning the third-place play-off against England in St Petersburg.
Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard secured a 2-0 win against Gareth Southgate’s exhausted side, ensuring Belgium return home as bronze medallists.
“We wanted to win it,” Belgium boss Martinez said. “When you beat Brazil and get into the semi-final, the focus has to be to try to win the World Cup.
“But you need to be realistic when you finish the tournament and look back.
“These players made history back in Belgium and that’s all that matters. These players deserve to have that accolade.
“The generation of Mexico 86 set a real inspiration and real vision for all the footballers in Belgium.
“Now this group of players overcame that and that’s historic; it took 32 years to be able to be in this position, so there’s real satisfaction and real success.
“It’s the manner we achieved that – the football we played is Belgian football, it’s our brand.
“And the togetherness and flexibility we had tactically shows what we want to be as a footballing nation.
“It has been a really nice journey, a really successful journey but in football you need to look forward and try to improve in the next opportunity that we have.”
Euro 2020 looks a great opportunity for Belgium to take that next step.
Boasting a glut of excellent talents, Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku is among those bound to get better on the back of his four goals and Golden Boot challenge in Russia.
“I think Romelu Lukaku had a fantastic tournament,” Martinez said. “I’m delighted with his contribution.
“Romelu goes a little further than just scoring goals. You need to understand that today he did incredibly to be in the starting line-up.
“It was really a difficult game against France. He had a couple of knocks, he was carrying a little bit of pain.
“He wanted to be part of the team and he wanted to help. He’s a winner.
“I appreciate Romelu’s mentality – he’s a winner.
“I don’t think he has a real worry about being in big games. I think for us he’s the perfect number nine with his power, his capability of scoring goals and moving defenders around and occupying defenders.
“I couldn’t be happier with his contribution in the tournament and what he’s done to help the team to achieve what we’ve done.
“He didn’t start the tournament to be top goalscorer and he didn’t come to the tournament for himself. He came here to help the team and contribute.
“That’s a sign of maturity, and he has got probably one of the brightest futures in Belgium football at such a young age.”