Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez has left Roma star Radja Nainggolan out of a World Cup squad packed with Premier League talent.
England’s Group G opponents named a long-list of 28 players on Monday morning — 15 of whom play their club football in England — with five names be trimmed on June 4th.
Joining the expected big names such as Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany and Romelu Lukaku are Michy Batshuayi, whose eye-catching loan from Chelsea to Borussia Dortmund was cut short by ankle ligament injury, out-of-form Crystal Palace striker Christian Benteke and Nacer Chadli of relegated West Brom.
But Nainggolan, who helped propel his club past Barcelona to the Champions League semi-finals, where he scored in a thrilling second leg against Liverpool, has not made the cut.
The 30-year-old, a favourite with fans for his all-action style in midfield, has missed out on previous Martinez squads but his hopes of a place in Russia increased when he was recalled in March.
“Radja is a top player. The reason is tactical,” Martinez said, quoted on the national team’s Twitter account.
“In the last two years the team has worked in a specific manner. Other players had those roles.
“We know that Radja has a very important role in his club and we cannot give him that role in our squad.”
Also plucked from the Premier League are Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini, Tottenham trio Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Mousa Dembele, Chelsea and Liverpool goalkeepers Thibaut Courtois and Simon Mignolet, Watford's Christian Kabasele and Matz Sels, recently loaned from Newcastle to Anderlecht.
Celtic’s Dedryck Boyata is also in the 28-man group, as are Thorgan Hazard and Jordan Lukaku — younger brothers to Eden and Romelu.
Martinez declined to take his former Everton winger Kevin Mirallas or Liverpool’s Divock Origi, explaining: “Divock and Kevin love being with the national team and their attitude has been perfect, but that is where you need to make a decision.”
On selecting Benteke despite a record of just three goals for Palace in 2017/18, the Spaniard added: “Benteke had a difficult season. But he is experienced enough to be ready.”
Martinez also vowed to give Barcelona defender Thomas Vermaelen “every minute” to prove his fitness for the tournament before finalising his squad.
Belgium play Panama and Tunisia before meeting Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions in their final group game on June 28 in Kaliningrad.
Belgium’s 28-man World Cup squad
Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang), Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Nacer Chadli (West Brom), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles FC), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham), Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Christian Kabasele (Watford), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Jordan Lukaku (Lazio), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Thomas Meunier (Paris St Germain), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Matz Sels (Anderlecht), Youri Tielemans (Monaco), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham), Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian).