October 7, 2019 / 7:53 PM / 15 days ago

Injury prevents Lestienne’s long-awaited return to Belgium squad

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Maxime Lestienne’s recall to the Belgium squad for their Euro 2020 qualifiers this week ended in bitter disappointment on Monday when he had to withdraw because of injury.

The Standard Liege attacker was a surprise inclusion when Roberto Martinez announced his squad last Friday, praising him for his form in domestic competition over the last weeks.

It ended a six-year wait for Lestienne, who was called up in 2013 but did not play and has been in international wilderness since.

But Lestienne’s joy lasted just 48 hours.

He has been ruled out of the qualifiers after suffering a hamstring injury on Sunday in the league game against Antwerp, the Belgian football association said.

Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku were absent on Monday as the Belgian squad began preparations for Thursday’s clash against San Marino in Brussels, where they are expected to become the first country to secure a berth in next year’s tournament, and Sunday’s away game against Kazakhstan.

Real Madrid goalkeeper Courtois missed the weekend win over Granada after falling ill.

Lukaku did not feature against Barcelona in the Champions League last Wednesday but played 90 minutes on Sunday for Inter Milan in their home defeat by Juventus.

The Belgian association offered no explanation for their absence from the first training session, prompting speculation in the local media about their availability for the international assignments.

Kevin De Bruyne is already out of the two encounters through injury although captain Eden Hazard is back.

Belgium have won all of their six matches and have a three-point lead over second placed Russia in Group I.

Reporting by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Pritha Sarkar

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