Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku were all called up to Belgium’s 32-man squad on Wednesday ahead of the next Nations League fixtures.
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez had rested the Red Devils big names for the March fixtures to focus on players with less than 50 international appearances. But with November-December 21. 18 World Cup in Qatar to prepare and get competitive games back on the schedule, Martinez said it was crucial for his core team to spend time together.
“It’s the real competition camp. We have 14 days, four games, something we’ve never done before,” Martinez said. “They’re a very experienced group. We’ve been working together for six years now, we know each other very, very well, and it’s important that we spend this time together.”
Belgium will first face the Netherlands on June 3, then face Poland before traveling to Wales. Martinez’s side will wrap up their four-game steak with a final game against Poland on June 14.
Belgium’s next rally ahead of the World Cup in Qatar will be in September, with two more Nations League games to play and around seven days together.
“So you can imagine the June camp will be essential,” Martinez said.
In Qatar, Belgium will play their third consecutive World Cup. This will likely be the last chance for the country’s ‘golden generation’ of players to win the major title they dream of after repeated failures in recent years. Belgium qualified for the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and were knocked out in the quarter-finals by eventual winners Italy in last year’s European Championship.
Hazard – a Belgium icon of the last 10 years – returned to competition with Real Madrid this month after ankle surgery and Martinez is happy to have the playmaker back in his squad.
“Hopefully Eden can get to his best possible level for the June camp because we need Eden happy and fit because we are a stronger team that way,” he said.
As well as the seasoned players and stars at his disposal, Martinez has also brought in two new faces, Amadou Onana and Lois Openda, who have impressed the Under-21 side.
Onana, who plays as a midfielder for Lille, has a versatile profile and is likely to be used in a No.6 role, while Openda – a striker with Vitesse in the Dutch league – offers an array of skills to complement Belgium’s already strong line of attack. .
“Very fast, always in space,” said Martinez when asked about Openda’s qualities. “He is the top scorer at under-21 level for Belgian football, with 13 goals. The stats speak for themselves, and that’s the maturity and the responsibility he takes.
Martinez did not select strikers Christian Benteke and Divock Origi but insisted that did not mean their future with the national team was in jeopardy.
“We’ve seen Christian and Divock in the last two camps, we know them well, they’re always players we rely on,” Martinez said.
Rennes striker Jeremy Doku also missed the cut, but Martinez said he just wanted to give him time to recover from his injury-hit season.
Goalkeepers: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Simon Mignolet (Club Bruges), Matz Sels (Strasbourg)
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Al-Duhail), Dedryck Boyata (Hertha Berlin), Jason Denayer (Lyon), Wout Faes (Reims), Brandon Mechele (Club Bruges), Arthur Theate (Bologna), Jan Vertonghen (Benfica), Thomas Foket (Reims), Timothy Castagne (Leicester), Thomas Meunier (Dortmund)
Midfielders: Alexis Saelemaekers (AC Milan), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund), Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Leander Dendoncker (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Amadou Onana (Lille), Youri Tielemans (Leicester ), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge), Axel Witsel (Borussia Dortmund)
Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Besiktas), Charles De Ketelaere (Club Bruges), Eden Hazard (Real Madrid), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociead), Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Lois Openda (Vitesse), Dennis Praet (Turin), Leandro Trossard (Brighton)
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