Tubize: Belgium coach Roberto Martinez left AS Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan out of his squad for next month’s World Cup in Russia, insisting on Monday it was a purely tactical move and not due to past clashes over discipline.
The absence of Nainggolan, who scored twice for Roma in the second league of the Champions League semi-final against Liverpool this month, was the biggest surprise in the 28-player list that will be reduced to 23 before the tournament.
Belgium face England, Panama and Tunisia in Group G at the World Cup.
The heavily tattooed 30-year-old has played 30 times for his country and is popular with supporters, but his relationship with Martinez has often been strained.
“Radja is a top player,” Martinez told a news conference, acknowledging Nainggolan’s key role in Roma’s run to the Champions League semi-finals, but saying he could not offer him a similar place in a Belgian side he described as more offensive.
Coach and player had an “honest” discussion after Martinez flew to Rome on Sunday to break the news.
The Spanish former Everton manager said, "It was a sad and difficult decision. He is a player with a lot of class and he was voted Roma's best player, but I've made my decision for purely tactical reasons.
"I have put in place a specific system that works. I can't use Radja in a secondary role."
In Nainggolan's place, Martinez has picked 21-year-old Youri Tielemans, who has had a low-key season at French club Monaco.
The decision to omit Nainggolan was criticised by former Belgian international Philippe Albert.
"We must be the only country in the world to be making the trip without one of the best players in the world. This is not the way to become world champions."
Manchester City's veteran defender Vincent Kompany is included, as is Barcelona defender Thomas Vermaelen, despite both being dogged by injuries this season.
Divock Origi, the Liverpool striker who has spent the season on loan at Wolsfburg, was left out.
Belgium face Portugal in a warm-up friendly on 2 June.
Belgium's 28-man squad:
Goalkeepers: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg/GER), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea/ENG), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool/ENG), Matz Sels (Newcastle/ENG, on loan at Anderlecht)
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham/ENG), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic/SCO), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles FC/USA), Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Christian Kabasele (Watford/ENG), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City/ENG), Jordan Lukaku (Lazio/ITA), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona/ESP), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham/ENG)
Midfielders: Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yinfang/CHN), Nacer Chadli (West Bromwich Albion/ENG), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City/ENG), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham/ENG), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United/ENG), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad/ESP), Thomas Meunier (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA), Youri Tielemans (Monaco/FRA), Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian/CHN)
Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea/ENG, on loan at Borussia Dortmund/GER), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace/ENG), Eden Hazard (Chelsea/ENG), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United/ENG), Dries Mertens (Naples/ITA).
With inputs from Reuters and AFP
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Updated Date: May 21, 2018 17:24:07 IST