Belgium World Cup squad 2022: Romelu Lukaku included despite injury problems

Inter Milan striker will be given 'every second' to regain fitness for tournament in Qatar

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Belgium manager Roberto Martinez has included Romelu Lukaku in his World Cup squad despite the striker's ongoing injury problems.

Lukaku has been suffering from a thigh injury which, coupled with a hamstring issue earlier this season, means he has played just twice for Inter Milan since August and is currently sidelined again.

The 29-year-old has made five appearances in total – scoring two goals – after moving back to the Italian side on loan from Chelsea.

But Martinez has previously stated that as long as Lukaku could feature in one of the team's Group F games against Canada, Morocco or Croatia, he would take him to the tournament.

Having named four players on a standby list – Bryan Heynen, Alexis Saelemaekers, Dodi Lukebakio and Jason Denayer – he has until 24 hours before Belgium’s first game against Canada on November 23 to call them into the squad if anyone is not fit.

“He [Lukaku] is not completely fit medically, that is clear, but the last three days has been very positive. We will give Romelu every second to be fit,” Martinez said Thursday.

BELGIUM SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet, Koen Casteels

Defenders: Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Leander Dendoncker, Zeno Debast, Arthur Theate, Wout Faes

Midfielders: Hans Vanaken, Axel Witsel, Youri Tielemans, Amadou Onana, Kevin De Bruyne, Yannick Carrasco, Thorgan Hazard, Timothy Castagne, Thomas Meunier

Forwards: Romelu Lukaku, Michy Batshuayi, Loïs Openda, Charles De Ketelaere, Eden Hazard, Jeremy Doku, Dries Mertens, Leandro Trossard

“At this stage, we feel he will be able to take part in at least one of those three [group] games. But we will keep assessing and have up until November 22 to make a decision.”

Martinez pointed to Belgium's previous experience of carrying key players in the squad at major tournaments despite their injuries. In 2018, centre back Vincent Kompany was injured ahead of the first game of the World Cup in Russia but returned for the final match of the group stage and played through to the semi-finals.

Centre midfielder Axel Witsel was selected in the squad for Euro 2020 last year even though he was recovering from a serious Achilles tendon injury. He went on to make a quicker-than-expected return and featured in the group stage.

“It is not an exceptional situation for us,” added Martinez. “We want him to play as big a role as he can give.”

After announcing a squad that includes mainstays Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, Martinez insisted he was not giving “special treatment” to Lukaku because of his importance to the team.

“The World Cup has two very different phases,” Martinez said. “One is the group phase, and that is the only phase we can prepare for – the three games that we have.

“But then there is another World Cup, which is the knockout rounds. And medically, we feel that Romelu Lukaku at this point could make that second World Cup.”

Because of Lukaku's injury status, Martinez opted to pick a third centre forward in Lois Openda, who has made only four appearances for Belgium. Michy Batshuayi is likely to start in Lukaku's absence.

Martinez said his hardest decision was to leave out experienced centre back Dedryck Boyata, preferring Wout Faes and Zeno Debast instead.

Hazard, meanwhile, has not played for Real Madrid in La Liga since September having fallen out of favour with coach Carlo Ancelotti, but remains a talismanic figure for his country.

“I am looking for Eden to come as captain of the squad and show what an incredible player we have,” said Martinez. “He is enjoying his football, I can see that, the only concern is the match fitness.”

Updated: November 16, 2022, 8:44 AM
BELGIUM SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet, Koen Casteels

Defenders: Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Leander Dendoncker, Zeno Debast, Arthur Theate, Wout Faes

Midfielders: Hans Vanaken, Axel Witsel, Youri Tielemans, Amadou Onana, Kevin De Bruyne, Yannick Carrasco, Thorgan Hazard, Timothy Castagne, Thomas Meunier

Forwards: Romelu Lukaku, Michy Batshuayi, Loïs Openda, Charles De Ketelaere, Eden Hazard, Jeremy Doku, Dries Mertens, Leandro Trossard

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