BELGIUM manager Roberto Martinez has spoken of his happiness at seeing Wales qualify for the World Cup.

The two countries meet in the Nations Leauge in Cardiff on Saturday having both competed in the same qualifying group for the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

The Red Devils topped the group while Wales took the play-off off spot, after a an away loss and a draw in Cardiff, which secured a first World Cup qualifcation since 1958 with a victory last Sunday over Ukraine.

Martinez, the former Swansea manager who studied for his coaching badges with the Football Association of Wales, said he was delighted that Wales had joined Belgium at the 2022 World Cup.

He said: “It was a goal that I started hearing back in 2007.

“It’s a wonderful story, wonderful work has been done in the Welsh FA.

“I saw young players in the under-21s with Brian Flynn – Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen – and to see them finally qualify is wonderful news. I’m very happy for Welsh football.”

Joe Allen, was given his debut in the Swansea first team under Martinez, who also sent him out on a short loan period to Wrexham, after the Spaniard had guided the Swans to promotion to the English Championship.

There is a healthy respect between Wales and Belgium in recent years with the two nations both having progressed up the world rankings with the Belgians currently ranked world number two.

Wales and Belgium were drawn together in qualyfing for the 2014 World Cup, with Belgium topping the group, a feat they managed again in qualyfing for the Euro 2016 tournament, which was the first finals Wales had qualified for since 1958.

The National Wales: Roberto Martinez during his period managing Swansea from 2007 to 2009. Picture: Huw Evans AgencyRoberto Martinez during his period managing Swansea from 2007 to 2009. Picture: Huw Evans Agency

At the tournament however Wales dumped highly fancied Belgium out at the quarter final stage.

While Gareth Bale's club future has been subject of much speculation ahead of the game, there is also uncertainty surrounding one of Belgium's star-studded side.

Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku has been linked with a return to Inter Milan after a season of discontent at Stamford Bridge.

The 29-year-old striker, Belgium’s record scorer with 68 goals in 102 appearances, was signed for a Chelsea club-record fee of £98million last summer but scored just eight times in the Premier League.

“When Romelu is with us he knows his role and he’s always committed,” Martinez said.

“In Belgium we are quite relaxed with Romelu’s situation. I know it is a big topic, but at the moment he is trying to recover from the injury and that’s the only thing he has in his mind.

“If he stays at Chelsea it will be for the right reasons. If he’s moving away it will be because everyone agrees to it.

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“Romelu is a player I know very well. I managed him at club level (at Everton) at a very young age.

“He was 19 and had a very different position than he has now. Now he’s a player who is very mature and very clear what he wants.

“He wants to be important and enjoy his football. I’m sure the decision in the summer will be the right one.”

The National Wales: Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku celebrates one of his few Premier League goals during the 2021/22 season. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA WireChelsea's Romelu Lukaku celebrates one of his few Premier League goals during the 2021/22 season. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Lukaku gave an interview to Italian media in December citing a desire to return to Inter.

He has struggled to adapt to Thomas Tuchel’s system since returning to Chelsea for a second spell, and Martinez said Belgium know how to utilise his strengths.

He said: “We just try to ask Romelu to do what he’s exceptional at. Romelu’s a sensational goalscorer and in the national team that’s what we want.

“We want him to be the final man, in the right position, to be the one that hits the back of the net.

“We don’t ask Rom to do things that he’s not exceptional at. He’s got an understanding with players that he’s played with for a long time, and that is seen in his numbers.”

Lukaku, Dries Mertens, Charles De Ketelaere and Amadou Onana are missing for Belgium as the Red Devils seek to build on Wednesday’s 6-1 Nations League thrashing of Poland.

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