The Red Devils take the European Championship qualifying match in and against Azerbaijan seriously, Lukaku kicking off anyway: “Even if Romelu had not played with Roma, he would start”


The Red Devils have completed their training at the Dalga Stadium near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. There, the Belgians will also take on Azerbaijan tomorrow, in a European Championship qualifying match. After the training, national coach Domenico Tedesco and midfielder Youri Tielemans addressed the press. “I am more nervous than usual. “

Jorunn Vannoorden, Ludo Vandewalle

No Courtois, no De Bruyne: and so the question was whether or not Romelu Lukaku will start in the base in Azerbaijan on Saturday as captain. National coach Domenico Tedesco quickly cleared that question out of the way: “Romelu is ready to play”, it sounded clear. “He may not have played much with Roma but he has always been fit. Even if he hadn’t played with Roma, he would have started. He is our captain and a very important player.”

De Bruyne irreplaceable, Casteels number 1

So no problem in the front, but in goal and in midfield the absence of strong holders Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne must be compensated. Although Tedesco was clear: De Bruyne is irreplaceable… “We cannot replace him one on one. We have to deal with it collectively. That must be dealt with with intensity, with long runs,” said the national coach.

Koen Casteels will be between the posts tomorrow. — © BELGIUM

In goal, the solution is a little easier to find. What was expected in advance was also confirmed by Tedesco the day before the duel with Azerbaijan: Koen Casteels is the number 1 and will be between the posts tomorrow. Casteels and Lukaku are certainly starting, if we can believe the national coach. “Now I won’t say anything else, otherwise you already know the whole team. I could also have called up Maarten Vandevoordt, but it is better that he plays with the U21. He is definitely one of our six available goalkeepers.”

Tielemans is ready

The big question is also what Tedesco will do tomorrow with players who have not played many minutes at the club this season. Just think of Romelu Lukaku, Leandro Trossard, or Youri Tielemans. “I don’t think Lukaku can play 90 minutes. Players who have played for their club naturally have an advantage. But someone like Youri Tielemans can certainly play too. He has had good preparation. He’s got the rhythm, so he can play. It’s his coach at Aston Villa who doesn’t line him up but he’s ready.”


Youri Tielemans is ready to play. — © BELGIUM

Something the midfielder himself also liked to confirm. “I may not start at Aston Villa, but I have been through every training session and played in every game. So I’m done”, says Tielemans. “I have spoken to the Aston Villa manager about not playing. He now chooses other players but it’s up to me to do my best. He said there would be more playing opportunities. I am not much with that explanation, but I hope that I can show myself a bit more in the coming weeks.” Starting with a good performance with the national team?

Snag in the grass

That is certainly what Tedesco hopes. He does not intend to bring a weaker team between the lines, the national coach takes the game against Azerbaijan very seriously. “I’m more nervous than usual,” he said. “I think we talk too much about Euro 2024. That is not good. We must not think that we are already there. Every match is difficult. You have to look beyond just the result. Azerbaijan may have lost 5-0 in Sweden, but that was really exaggerated. They could have even taken the lead.”

And so the Devils will firmly press the accelerator tomorrow, although there is also a catch. Literally then. Tedesco and co were concerned this morning about the turf in the Dalga Arena. That one is very bad. That could possibly put a stop to the attacking football of the Devils tomorrow, although they do not want to use that as an excuse. “It will be difficult, but that is the case for both teams,” said Youri Tielemans.

The turf in the Dalga Arena is not in good shape. — © BELGIUM

Tedesco (r.) discusses the state of the field in the Dalga Arena. — © BELGIUM

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