DOHA, Qatar — For Kevin De Bruyne, playing for Belgium at the World Cup feels a lot different to playing for Manchester City in the Premier League.
“I know I have to adapt to my teammates,” De Bruyne said Friday, demonstrating the kind of honesty that flared up at times during Belgium’s underwhelming first performance at the World Cup.
As the Belgians were laboring to a 1-0 win over Canada on Wednesday, the midfielder repeatedly lost his temper. He threw his hands up in disgust toward his teammates on the field and was engaged in a heated discussion with defender Toby Alderweireld and coach Roberto Martinez during a break in play.
After the match, De Bruyne mocked the decision to vote him as the player of the match. He was in no mood to celebrate.
“Sometimes I get very agitated because I’m a perfectionist,” said De Bruyne, who is regarded by many as the best midfielder in the world and was voted as the Premier League’s best player for the past two seasons.
“I cannot do this job by myself,” he added. “I will need everybody else. I need to raise the level of the other guys if we want to do a successful tournament.”
When De Bruyne is playing for City, the English champion, he has Erling Haaland as a target up front, Bernardo Silva and Rodri as technically gifted midfield colleagues, and Rúben Dias and Aymeric Laporte clearing up behind.
The level of talent around him just isn’t the same with Belgium, even if the team is ranked No. 2 and features other star names such as winger Eden Hazard and striker Romelu Lukaku.
The problem is Lukaku is currently out injured — he might only return for the knockout stage, should Belgium make it — and Hazard has barely played for Real Madrid this season, making just two starts.
Against Canada, there was a general sluggishness to Belgium's aging team that De Bruyne has noticed for a while.
“Perhaps it’s already been a while that we’re not playing at our best level,” he said from Belgium's training camp in Al Rayyan, “and I believe the team has the level to do better. There is potential in this team. It’s time to deliver.”
That starts, De Bruyne hopes, against Morocco on Sunday — a game that could come too soon for Lukaku even though he is back in training after a left thigh injury.
Michy Batshuayi might have scored the winning goal against Canada, but he doesn’t offer the same all-round threat as Lukaku, Belgium’s record scorer with 68 goals in 102 matches.
“Obviously it will be a boost (when he plays),” De Bruyne said, “somebody who is so prolific, who is always on the defense, can only help our options.
“I know he hasn’t played for a long time, but even having him coming off the bench, maybe in the beginning or whatever. Defenders will be more scared of him. It gives us options that maybe for the moment we don’t have.”
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80