New Belgium coach Domenico Tedesco on Friday omitted Axel Witsel and Dries Mertens from the squad to face Sweden in a Euro 2024 qualifier on March 24 and a friendly against Germany four days later.
After the international retirement of Eden Hazard, Simon Mignolet and Toby Alderweireld, Tedesco has plumped for a flush of youth to make up for the disappointment of Belgium’s first-round exit at last year’s World Cup in Qatar.
The 34-year-old Witsel, capped 130 times, is the biggest casualty of that policy, Tedesco saying the decision to drop the Atletico Madrid player was “extremely tough”.
“We have a lot of young midfielders and we want to see what they’re capable of,” added Tedesco.
“But I’m certainly not shutting the door on Axel. I hope he won’t retire from the international stage.”
Only two of the 24 squad members play in the Belgian league: the Anderlecht pair of Jan Vertonghen and Zeno Debast. Eight, meanwhile, ply their trade in the English Premier League.
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