Belgium coach Roberto Martinez resisted an overhaul of his aging squad as he named 31 players for three World Cup qualifiers next month. Martinez said he had never considered wholesale changes after the Euro 2020 tournament, where Belgium was eliminated by eventual winners Italy in the last eight, even though almost half of his squad were 30 or older.
“We had a lot of good performances in the Euros. We had four wins at the tournament and were very consistent,” he told a news conference on Thursday.
“To make changes there need to be footballing reasons. You will make bad decisions if you just look at the player’s age. The transition between the generations needs to come naturally.”
But he added that there was ample opportunity for younger players chosen in the expansive squad because it would be impossible for him to field the same team in three qualifiers.
Belgium faces Estonia in Tallinn on Sept. 2, the Czech Republic in Brussels three days later, and then visits Belarus in Kazan, Russia on Sept. 8 in Group E.
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) August 26, 2021
Martinez is missing only six players from the 24-man Euro 2020 squad, with Nacer Chadli, Kevin De Bruyne, Jeremy Doku and Dries Mertens injured. Thomas Vermaelen is unable to play because of quarantine regulations in Japan, while backup goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has been allowed time off.
Belgium, still top of the FIFA rankings has seven points from their first three qualifiers in March ahead of the Czechs on four points.
On De Bruyne, earlier this summer, the Belgian reported for pre-season training still ‘feeling pain‘ in the ankle that he damaged at the European Championships with Belgium.
“Kevin is not available,” Martinez confirmed when announcing his squad for the World Cup qualifiers.
“As you know he had some minutes against Tottenham. But after that game he still felt some pain (in the ankle). He’s taking a different route now. He’s not gonna be playing this weekend. The idea is to see how his injury progresses.”
“It’s only right that we work together for the well-being of the player. Kevin is working really hard behind the scenes to get fully fit and to be ready for a demanding season. At the moment he’s not 100 percent fit,” Martinez concluded.
Belgium squad details
Goalkeepers: Koen Casteels (VfL Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Thomas Kaminski (Blackburn Rovers), Matz Sels (Racing Strasbourg)
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Al Duhail), Dedryck Boyata (Hertha Berlin), Timothy Castagne (Leicester City), Hannes Delcroix (Anderlecht), Jason Denayer (Olympique Lyonnais), Brandon Mechele (Club Brugge), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund), Zinho Vanheusden (Genoa), Jan Vertonghen (Benfica)
Midfielders: Charles De Ketelaere (Club Brugge), Leander Dendoncker (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Thomas Foket (Stade Reims), Eden Hazard (Real Madrid), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund), Dennis Praet (Leicester City), Alexis Saelemaekers (AC Milan), Albert Sambi Lokonga (Arsenal), Youri Tielemans (Leicester City), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge), Axel Witsel (Borussia Dortmund).
Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Besiktas), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace), Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea), Dodi Lukebakio (Hertha Berlin), Leandro Trossard (Brighton & Hove Albion), Yari Verschaeren (Anderlecht).