Soccer-Belgium resist overhaul of ageing squad after Euro 2020 disappointment


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Euro 2020 - Quarter Final - Belgium v Italy - Football Arena Munich, Munich, Germany - July 2, 2021 Belgium coach Roberto Martinez Pool via REUTERS/Stuart Franklin

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium coach Roberto Martinez resisted an overhaul of his ageing 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 were 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 face Estonia in Tallinn on Sept. 2, the Czech Republic in Brussels three days later and then visit Belarus in Kazan, Russia on Sept. 8 in Group E.

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 back-up goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has been allowed time off.

Belgium, still top of the FIFA rankings, have seven points from their first three qualifiers in March ahead of the Czechs on four points.

Squad:

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)

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

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