Belgium leave out Nainggolan of World Cup squad

2018-05-21 13:34

Brussels - Belgium have left midfield creator Radja Nainggolan out of their 2018 Soccer World Cup squad, coach Roberto Martinez said on Monday.

The absence of Nainggolan, who scored twice for Roma in the second leg 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.

The Spaniard flew out to Italy over the weekend to explain his choice.

Nainggolan later announced he was calling time on his international career.

"Unfortunately and very reluctantly my international career comes to an end," Nainggolan wrote on Instagram.

"I've always done everything I could to represent my country. Being yourself can irritate people.

"From this day on I'll be the number one fan."

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."

And within hours of the announcement over 16 000 Belgium fans had signed a petition demanding Nainggolan be called up.

"Belgium needs Radja to (go) the World Cup in Russia! One of the best and most important players (in) the Belgian team!" read the plea on Change.org.

"The coach deprives an entire nation of one of his best players over some differences between himself and the player? This isn't normal!"

Manchester City's veteran defender Vincent Kompany was included, as was 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 Wolfsburg, was left out.

Belgium, whose best World Cup finish was fourth place in 1986, face Portugal in a warm-up friendly on June 2. 

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 Meunier (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA), 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), 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 Moenchengladbach/GER), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United/ENG), Dries Mertens (Napoli/ITA)

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