Snubbed Nainggolan ends Belgium career

Reuters
Radja Nainggolan ended his international career yesterday after Belgium coach Roberto Martinez left the AS Roma midfielder out of his squad for next month's World Cup in Russia.
Reuters

Radja Nainggolan

Radja Nainggolan ended his international career yesterday after Belgium coach Roberto Martinez left the AS Roma midfielder out of his squad for next month’s World Cup in Russia.

Despite past clashes over discipline, Martinez insisted he took what he knew was an unpopular decision for the good of the team.

“Very reluctantly my international career comes to an end,” the 29-year-old Nainggolan wrote in English on Instagram an hour after Martinez made public a decision which he had broken to the player in person the night before in Rome.

Martinez said his offensive strategy since he took over following the team’s Euro 2016 disappointment no longer offered a role to Nainggolan, despite his huge part in Roma’s charge to the Champions League semifinals this year.

The player himself, who also announced plans to retire last year after Martinez left him out, made clear he saw a clash of personality as an issue.

“I have always done everything I could to represent my country. Being yourself can be bothering” he said.

In his native Dutch, he said; “Unfortunately, being REAL is not enough for SOME PEOPLE”, adding that the decision to quit international soccer gave him “much pain in my heart”.

Martinez, who also sprung a surprise by not naming his final 23-man squad, declined to give details of what he called an “honest” talk with the player, who cemented his popularity at Euro 2016 where Belgium reached the quarterfinals.

But his decision was tactical.

“We know that Radja has a very important role in his club and we cannot give him that role in our squad,” Martinez told a news conference.

Contrary to expectations, Martinez listed 28 players yesterday. These will be whittled down to the final 23 for Russia on June 4, two days after a friendly against fellow World Cup finalist Portugal in Brussels.

Giving himself an extra couple of weeks until FIFA’s last squad deadline would give the likes of experienced Barcelona defender Thomas Vermaelen time to prove his fitness.

Third in the world rankings and hungry for the success that has eluded it despite boasting some of Europe’s most gifted players, England’s Group G opponent heads to Russia with English Premier League stars, including Chelsea forward Eden Hazard and midfielder Kevin De Bruyne from champion Manchester City.

Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku also makes the preliminary squad despite recent injury issues, along with 32-year-old City skipper Vincent Kompany in defense.

Among fresher faces given a chance are winger Adnan Januzaj from Real Sociedad and 21-year-old Monaco midfielder Youri Tielemans.

Elsewhere, Spain coach Julen Lopetegui named his 23-man World Cup squad yesterday with a rich blend of youth and experience, as well as some high-profile absentees.

Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata was left out after a disappointing season in England, as was his teammate Marcos Alonso, with Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal picked as back-up for left back Jordi Alba.

Lopetegui selected Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa, Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas and Valencia’s Rodrigo Moreno as his three center forwards, all relatively untested.

Costa, who had a disappointing tournament in Brazil in 2014 as Spain was knocked out at the group stage, has scored seven goals in 18 internationals.

Versatile Barcelona midfielder Sergi Roberto was also omitted while veteran playmaker Andres Iniesta heads to his fourth World Cup along with captain Sergio Ramos.

Isco, Marco Asensio, Nacho Fernandez, Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez are going to the tournament for the first time along with their Real Madrid teammate Ramos. Only four Barcelona players are in the Spain squad, down from seven in Brazil four years ago.

The 2010 world champion faces Switzerland on June 3 and Tunisia on June 9 in friendlies before its World Cup campaign begins against Portugal on June 15.


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