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De Bruyne to lead Belgium at Euro 2024 with unretired Witsel

BRUSSELS (AP) — Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will lead a rejuvenated Belgium side including a once-retired Alex Witsel at the European Championship next month.

De Bruyne and Witsel were on the 25-man list unveiled by coach Domenico Tedesco on Tuesday. Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, preparing for the Champions League final, was not.

Defender Maxim De Cuyper, who won the Belgian league with Club Brugge last weekend, was the only newcomer.

De Bruyne and Witsel are remaining members of the so-called golden generation of Belgian players. While De Bruyne’s presence was expected, Witsel’s was a surprise after Tedesco dropped him from his first squad last year. Witsel soon after announced his retirement from international soccer and did not play in qualifying.

But Tedesco said Witsel’s recent excellent showings with Atletico Madrid convinced him the 35-year-old midfielder was the right choice. Tedesco also traveled to Spain to meet Witsel and discuss a comeback. There was no hard feelings, the coach said, and Witsel immediately agreed to return.

“First of all, it’s about the quality,” Tedesco said. “There is no doubt he is a high-quality player. We need him, he is an experienced player, he can help the young players. Either if he is playing or not, we have a good feeling with him.”

Witsel can play in midfield or defense, a versatility that increased his value.

“He has started to play as a central defender, it changed a lot,” Tedesco said. “As a (number) six, probably he would not be in the squad today. I have to be very transparent.”

Tedesco said Courtois was not ready for Euro 2024, which starts on June 14 in Germany, after recently returning from injury. The men have been at odds since a dispute last year, and Courtois announced in December he would miss the Euros.

“Of course he knows his body the best,” Tedesco said about Courtois.

Tedesco succeeded Roberto Martinez as Belgium manager in February 2023. He has yet to lose a game in charge of the Red Devils.

Belgium will face Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine in Group E. Belgium’s best result at the continental tournament was runner-up in 1980.

Tedesco can still amend his squad before a June 7 deadline when teams must give UEFA a list with a minimum of 23 players and a maximum of 26. He said two extra “young” players will join the squad as training partners during the Euro preparations.

Tedesco said he had been following the left-footed De Cuyper closely since he took over as coach but the defender had so far been overlooked because of strong competition.

“The situation changed a little bit and we are open,” Tedesco said. “We have to choose the best players.”

Up front, strikers Romelu Lukaku and Lois Openda were chosen at the expense of Michy Batshuayi. Tedesco said it did not make sense to have Batshuayi in the squad knowing that Charles de Ketelaere, Dodi Lukebakio and Leandro Trossard can also cover his position.

“We did not see the necessity to take a third striker,” Tedesco said.



Goalkeepers: Matz Sels (Nottingham Forest), Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thomas Kaminski (Luton).

Defenders: Wout Faes (Leicester), Timothy Castagne (Fulham), Arthur Theate (Rennes), Jan Vertonghen (Anderlecht), Axel Witsel (Atletico Madrid), Zeno Debast (Anderlecht), Thomas Meunier (Trabzonspor), Maxim De Cuyper (Club Brugge)

Midfielders: Aster Vranckx (Wolfsburg), Youri Tielemans (Aston Villa), Orel Mangala (Lyon), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Arthur Vermeeren (Atletico Madrid), Amadou Onana (Everton)

Forwards: Romelu Lukaku (Roma), Charles De Ketelaere (Atalanta), Jeremy Doku (Manchester City), Lois Openda (Leipzig), Leandro Trossard (Arsenal), Johan Bakayoko (PSV Eindhoven), Dodi Lukebakio (Sevilla), Yannick Carrasco (Al-Shabab)


AP soccer: https://ift.tt/8Ljhi1U

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