Soccer-Belgium name recovering Witsel in Euro 2020 squad

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Belgium’s Axel Witsel was included in the squad for next month’s European Championship with coach Roberto Martinez gambling the influential midfielder will be fit in time for the tournament.

Witsel, 32, had surgery on an Achilles tendon injury suffered with Borussia Dortmund in January and has not played since but has been a key part of Belgium's lineup, winning the last of his 110 caps against England last November.

“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,” the coach explained.

There were no shocks in the squad, which includes Real Madrid's Eden Hazard, despite an injury-filled season, as well as Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne and Youri Tielemans, hero of Saturday’s FA Cup final win for Leicester City.

“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 will begin their preparations on May 31, said Martinez, except for De Bruyne who plays in the Champions League final and will join the squad on June 7.

That means he will miss warm-up friendlies against Greece on June 3 and Croatia on June 6 in Brussels.

Belgium, who have been top of the FIFA rankings for the last three years, will take on Denmark, Finland and Russia in Group B, starting with the Russians in St Petersburg on June 12.

Belgium are the first of the 24 countries competing at Euro 2020 to name their final 26-man squad. Martinez has put 11 other players on standby.


Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge), Matz Sels (Racing Strasbourg)

Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur), Dedryck Boyata (Hertha Berlin), Timothy Castagne (Leicester City), Jason Denayer (Olympique Lyonnais), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund), Thomas Vermaelen (Vissel Kobe), Jan Vertonghen (Benfica)

Midfielders: Nacer Chadli (Istanbul Basaksehir), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Leander Dendoncker (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund), Dennis Praet, Youri Tielemans (both Leicester City), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge), Axel Witsel (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Michy Batshuayi, Christian Benteke (both Crystal Palace), Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Jeremy Doku (Stade Rennes), Eden Hazard (Real Madrid), Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Leandro Trossard (Brighton and Hove Albion)

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris)

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