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FIFA rankings count for nothing as Belgium seek golden touch

Raindrops flow down on a logo in front of FIFA's headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland June 8, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Raindrops flow down on a logo in front of FIFA's headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland June 8, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

By Steve Tongue

BORDEAUX, FRANCE (Reuters) - Like David Beckham's England and Luis Figo's Portugal, the current Belgium squad have been burdened with the tag of "golden generation" and are in danger of coming up equally short.

In a 2-0 defeat by Italy that left them bottom of Group E at Euro 2016, the "Diables Rouges" lacked devilment and much else besides and will need to seriously improve in Saturday's game against Ireland.

At the squad's headquarters on Wednesday, just outside Bordeaux, the city which hosts the second match, there was an understandable keenness to look no further ahead than that next game and to pay no heed to FIFA's rankings which had Belgium at number one in the world for the first three months of 2016 and second since then.

Coach Marc Wilmots says he has responded to calls for more attacking football since the World Cup quarter-final defeat by Argentina and told reporters that a poor result against Ireland would not change that.

"Even if we lose two games it won't change our philosophy," he said. "Even if you think I should. There is no lack of confidence, certainly not.

"One-one would have been more deserved (against Italy). One team played football, the other didn’t. What I want is attacking football and we have the DNA to play that game."

Burdened by expectation ever since he took over four years ago, Wilmots cited Tuesday's disappointing results for Portugal, in their draw with unfancied Iceland, and Austria, losing to Hungary, to help his case.

"Everybody thought Portugal would win but you can concede a goal any time. You can't say they don’t have quality but look at the result: 1-1."

Young striker Michy Batshuayi, hoping for some game time if Romelu Lukaku and Divock Origi do not make more of their scoring chances than they did against Italy, conceded that being ranked number one in Europe could take a toll.

"There is more and more pressure regarding the team and it’s not so easy to cope with it," he said.

The more experienced reserve goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, however, declined to use the pressure of the rankings as an excuse.

“It’s nice to be number two in the world but we’re not thinking about that," he said.

"It’s the game against Ireland that’s important. Everything else is in the past."

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

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