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Roberto Martinez: 'No secrets' for England, Belgium ahead of World Cup

Stewart Robson feels England lucked out and got a fairly easy group that contains Belgium, Panama and Tunisia.

Roberto Martinez believes there will be "no secrets" when his Belgium side face England at next summer's World Cup and says a gifted generation of players can handle the responsibility of delivering success on the biggest stage.

The two sides will play in Kaliningrad on June 28 in a match that could well decide the winner of a group that also features Tunisia and Panama.

As many as 16 Belgium squad members could come from Premier League clubs and friendships will have to be put aside for one afternoon.

"It's a game where there are no secrets -- no secrets about Belgium from England or for us about the England team," Martinez said. "I don't think [the familiarity between the players] really matters. In the World Cup you know you can face every single team so you have to be prepared to adapt to whatever comes your way.

"In terms of knowing the teams and players, it is going to be an interesting feeling. In the Premier League with the various dressing rooms there is going to be a lot of chemistry, but football is about this and once the World Cup starts we are going to be seeing two teams who will want to show what potential they have got."

Belgium's potential is considered limitless, the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard appearing to be in their pomp while Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku are both enjoying high-scoring years in attack.

Speaking at the Kremlin shortly after the draw had been made, Martinez played down the notion that they will be among next summer's favourites but said he expects his team to rise to the task in hand.

"We want to go to the World Cup to enjoy our football and to enjoy the responsibility of having such a strong generation," he said. "We are a group of players with an incredible responsibility, they are true ambassadors for Belgium football.

Ninety-five percent of our squad plays abroad, and when they play for the national team they look forward to it and enjoy it."

"In many ways when you go into the World Cup the teams that are a bit the favourites are the nations which have won the World Cup before -- there is a psychological level that you have to achieve in order to have that. We are going to be humble but I don't think we should look away from the quality that we have in our squad."

Belgium and England players are familiar with each other from playing together in the Premier League.

While Belgium and England are widely expected to progress from the group stage together, Martinez warned that their less-fancied rivals must not be taken lightly and hailed the variety -- Panama are surprise World Cup debutants -- that their presence provides.

"It was a very good draw in terms of the group," he said. "Very diverse to be playing Panama, who are going to be bringing the excitement of playing in the World Cup for the first time after an incredible qualification in which they knocked the United States out of the World Cup. Then Tunisia with their style bring all the ingredients to have a very diverse group."

If we think we are going to go into the last game [against England] with the job done, we are underestimating what we are going to face in the World Cup. If anything, when you go into the World Cup with the pressure to win the game, it can be very difficult for the players to express themselves.

"Believe me, Panama are not just in the finals -- we saw that with Costa Rica in 2014. Their players can celebrate and almost enjoy themselves and I think we need to be very careful in the games against Tunisia and Panama."

Panama have tried to qualify for every World Cup since 1978, but they were never successful until this year when they finished third in the CONCACAF table, ahead of Honduras and the United States.

Panama coach Hernan "Bolillo" Gomez told Telemetro after Friday's draw in Moscow: "We came to this World Cup [draw] very happy and we continue to be. We are trying to enjoy it. I'm trying to imagine my players thinking about facing England, Belgium and the other team [Tunisia] that doesn't have a big name, but we know how tough they are. Belgium have great players that compete in top leagues.

The most important thing is that my players are happy with the group we've got. I'm really satisfied because my players wanted to face the big teams and here they are."

Panama captain Roman Torres was also excited, the Seattle Sounders defender telling Telemetro: "We are going to give our best because it's in us. We are very proud. Before we used to watch the [World Cup] draws and we weren't there, now we are full of motivation to be present in the World Cup.

"We are so proud that our country's name was mentioned. It wouldn't have mattered to me what group we got. I'm just happy to know our group and now we have to prepare for it in order to have a good World Cup.

"For us it was very difficult to qualify and we know that what is coming next is even more challenging. That is why we have to prepare for this in the best possible way."

Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.


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