Belgium coach Roberto Martinez is contemplating giving Axel Witsel a chance to play against Denmark in Thursday’s Euro 2020 match, completing a remarkably quick recovery from a serious Achilles tendon injury.
Martinez said Witsel was fit to play in the Group B encounter in Copenhagen after working his way back to full fitness.
The 32-year-old midfielder, with 110 caps, is one of the pillars of the Belgian team but his chances of competing at the European Championship looked negligible after tearing an Achilles tendon in January while playing for Borussia Dortmund.
After undergoing surgery, he was told it would take nine months before he could play again. However, Martinez said Witsel’s disciplined and simple-minded rehabilitation has allowed him to return way ahead of schedule.
The Belgian coach took a gamble on including Witsel in his 26-man squad for the tournament but said, at the time, he only expected the midfield enforcer to play in the knockout stages.
But now Witsel, who been in full training with the Belgian side for more than a week, had even further accelerated his return.
“The original plan was that he would play 20 minutes against Finland … otherwise I would not have picked him,” Martinez told reporters referring to their last group game in St Petersburg next Monday.
“But he will now be able to play against Denmark.”
One week ago, Belgium’s prospects looked bleak without Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne and captain Eden Hazard, who had done little training with the squad in their first week of Euro preparations after an injury-filled season at Real Madrid.
But De Bruyne is scheduled to take part in his first training session with Belgium on Monday as he works his way back to fitness after a double facial fracture and Hazard played 20 minutes on Saturday as Belgium opened their campaign with an impressive 3-0 win over Russia in St Petersburg.
“I was very happy with his appearance and think it was a massive step forward. He is playing again with freedom and intuition,” Martinez added.
“Now it will be important that he shows this over 90 minutes. Against Denmark, he will have to see more action.”
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)