Witsel had no hesitation about making Belgium return

football01 June 2024 12:43| © Reuters
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Axel Witsel © Gallo Images

Axel Witsel has come out of international retirement to fulfil a new role with Belgium at the European Championship in Germany and said it was an easy decision to make when he was called by coach Domenico Tedesco.

Witsel, 35, retired from the national team in May last year after being dropped from the squad for the March 2023 Euro qualifiers, having won 130 caps over 15 years, most of them in the midfield.

But after a fine season in LaLiga at centre-back with Atletico Madrid, Tedesco wants him to add experience to the backline, potentially alongside the 37-year-old Jan Vertonghen.

"The coach contacted me and I understood it (his plan) right away," Witsel told reporters on Saturday. "The appetite was still there and that's why I decided to come back.

"I may have made a pretty quick decision to stop (with the national team). That's life. But after such a season (in Spain), I felt like returning."

He will have to adapt from a three-man defence at Atletico to a back four with Belgium, but does not see this as an issue.

"I made the adjustment (to centre-back) and in my head I am now a defender. I feel really comfortable there. You have to make quick decisions in defence. That is now also the role I will play."

Witsel dismisses any suggestion that he and Vertonghen may lack the pace to play together.

"Jan and I will be able to find each other well there. We may not be the fastest but we will solve that issue differently."

Witsel admits that Belgium may not be the force of two or three years ago, but believes they have enough quality in the squad to lift the title in Germany.

"We are no longer the big favourite. But we have a good mix between experience and youngsters," he said. "I would rather consider ourselves an outsider. We have to tackle the tournament match by match. And then anything is possible."

Belgium are in Group E along with Romania, Ukraine and Slovakia, and open their campaign against the Slovakians in Frankfurt on June 17.