Injured Witsel included in Belgium squad
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Belgium showed themselves to be one of the best teams around at the World Cup in 2018 and are one of the favourites to go all the way at this summer’s showpiece at Euro 2020.
It is not hard to see why. Given the talent at their disposal with their so-called “golden generation” looking to improve on their third-place finish in Russia, Belgium duly beat England for the second time in that tournament three years ago in the third-fourth place play-off, having been knocked out by eventual winners France in the semi-finals.
The Red Devils, the number one side in the FIFA rankings, look to have a rather familiar armoury at their disposal, bolstered by plenty of experience at the highest level, after head coach Roberto Martinez unveiled his squad on Monday.
It could be argued that the players pick themselves with Martinez springing no real surprises in naming his 26, with the former Everton and Wigan boss confident that Axel Witsel will be fully fit by the time the European Championships kick off next month.
The 32-year-old has been a key cog in the Belgian midfield for some time now, second only to Jan Vertonghen as the country’s most-capped player, but he has not played any football since suffering an Achilles injury in January while playing for Borussia Dortmund.
Martinez did hint that Witsel might not quite be ready for the group stages but does not see his inclusion as a gamble, and insists the former Benfica and Zenit Saint Petersburg star will be crucial to his side’s hopes in the latter stages of the tournament.
“Witsel is recovering well and working really hard to be completely fit and is ahead of his recovery schedule,” Martinez told reporters on Monday.
“A European Championship is made up of two tournaments and if you want to be successful you have to take a different mentality into the knockout phase. That is where Axel is going to be most important.”
There certainly looks to be plenty of talent in the Belgium squad, particularly in an attacking sense with the likes of Liverpool’s Divock Origi and Real Sociedad’s Adnan Januzaj unable to force their way in to the final 26.
However, Martinez will be hoping that perhaps the brightest star in the Belgium ranks, and captain of the side, Eden Hazard, can find his best form after a disappointing spell so far with Real Madrid, which of course has not been helped by injury issues.
Hazard showed at Chelsea and at the last World Cup he is one of the best players in the world, and Martinez is hopeful that he finds his A-game when it matters.
“We are pleased things are going better with Eden Hazard and we are looking forward to him reaching his top level again in the next weeks. He is our captain and will play an important role,” Martinez told a news conference.
Belgium are in a group with Russia, Denmark and Finland and open their Euro 2020 campaign against the last World Cup hosts at Saint Petersburg’s Krestovsky Stadium on June 12.