June 25, 2018 / 6:00 PM / 6 months ago

All change? Belgium eye radical new look vs England

DEDOVSK, Russia (Reuters) - Belgium coach Roberto Martinez does not rule out fielding an entirely changed side against England on Thursday from the starting line-up which secured qualification from World Cup Group G with wins over Panama and Tunisia.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Belgium Training - Guchkovo Sports Complex, Moscow Region, Russia - June 25, 2018. Belgium's Vincent Kompany and team mates during training. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

With both teams already through, Martinez told reporters he was keen to get his whole squad primed for the knockout phase and was unlikely to pick three players who will be suspended for the next round if they pick up a second yellow card.

Asked if he could even rotate all 10 outfield positions, the Spaniard said on Monday: “It could be an option.”

“It would be very risky and a real gamble to play any of the players that’s got a yellow card against England,” he said.

The three are defender Jan Vertonghen, winger Thomas Meunier and midfield linchpin Kevin De Bruyne.

Martinez said striker Romelu Lukaku was still nursing a minor ankle knock and playmaker Eden Hazard a twinge in the calf. Attacking midfielder Dries Mertens should be fit to train on Tuesday, he added.

Speaking at Belgium’s base at Dedovsk outside Moscow where injured first-choice defenders Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen trained with a group of those who did not start in Saturday’s 5-2 defeat of Tunisia, Martinez said both were fit but not yet certain to be sharp enough to be selected.

He played down a suggestion that major changes against England could break the momentum of a team growing in confidence, saying it would take a wider squad to win.

“The difficulty that we have in Belgium is that we have too many players that deserve to win the World Cup,” he said of the talent he can choose from, at least in some positions.

“Anyone could play. If that’s the case, they need to be ready, to be ambassadors of our game in Belgium.

“We need to create momentum in the squad.”

Martinez denied he might prefer to lose in order to finish second in the group, potentially avoiding a route to a quarter-final against Brazil or Germany.

“In every game we want to win,” he said. “I don’t think as a professional you can go on a pitch not wanting to win.”

At the same time, however, the fact that he could already start preparing for playing in the second round meant that he needed to use the England match to build up the wider squad.

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Ian Chadband

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