Belgium manager Roberto Martínez has stuck to his initial plan of excluding 50-cap veterans from the squad that travels to Dublin for the FAI’s centenary celebration on March 26th.
The friendly match at the Aviva stadium will take place without Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku, Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Manchester City’s midfield general Kevin De Bruyne. Martínez is also resting Jan Vertonghen, Axel Witsel, Toby Alderweireld, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Meunier as the Ireland match is used to bring through the Red Devils next generation of star talent.
“It’s too early to worry about de World Cup,” said Martínez. “Eden and Romelu are important members of the squad. It’s an unusual situation for them but there could be some movement during the summer and they have time to get back to form with their clubs. What we want is to see them happy on the pitch.”
Hazard was an unused sub in Real Madrid’s dramatic 3-1 defeat of Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League last 16 on March 9th while Lukaku is a fringe player under Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea, despite his £100 million move from Inter Milan last year.
Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans will captain the team to face Stephen Kenny’s side. It is believed that the FAI have already sold 44,000 tickets for the game.
“He deserves to wear the armband when you look at his experience and attitude,” explained Martínez.
Jeremy Doku is ruled out with injury but there are great expectations surrounding Club Bruges’ attacking midfielder Charles De Ketelaere, with Newcastle United and Leicester in the running to sign the 21 year old this summer.
Only one of Josh Cullen’s Anderlecht teammates, Yari Verschaeren, has been called up but Ireland should be familiar with Belgium’s style of play as former coach Anthony Barry was recently head-hunted by Martínez ahead of the winter World Cup in Qatar.
“Today, all that matters, is to prepare the World Cup the best way we can and to gather all the information we can in order to select the 23 best players in November,” Martínez added. “This international break will be useful in that sense. We’ve been top of the FIFA ranking for four years now, it’s a great performance. If I had to give a real importance to that ranking, I would say that I would prefer being at the top in January 2023.”
Goalkeepers: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thomas Kaminski (Blackburn Rovers), Simon Mignolet (Club Bruges), Matz Sels (Strasbourg).
Defenders: Sebastiaan Bornauw (Wolfsburg), Jason Denayer (Lyon), Arthur Theate (Bologna), Dedryck Boyata (Hertha Berlin), Wout Faes (Reims), Siebe Van der Heyden (Union Saint-Gilloise).
Wingbacks: Thomas Foket (Reims), Alexis Saelemaekers (AC Milan), Thorgan Hazard (Dortmund).
Midfielders: Leander Dendoncker (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Orel Mangala (Stuttgart), Hans Vanaken (Club Bruges), Albert Sambi Lokonga (Arsenal), Youri Tielemans (Leicester City).
Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Besiktas), Charles De Ketelaere (Club Bruges), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Leandro Trossard (Brighton & Hove Albion), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace), Jeremy Doku (Rennes), Divock Origi (Liverpool), Yari Verschaeren (Anderlecht), Dante Vanzeir (Union Saint-Gilloise).