Captain Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Axel Witsel will all start Belgium’s next European Championship match against Finland in St Petersburg on Monday, coach Roberto Martinez said. The trio all battled with injury ahead of the tournament but showed their value to Belgium’s cause in Thursday’s 2-1 win over Denmark, coming on to turn around the team’s fortunes after Belgium had trailed at half-time in Copenhagen.
“It was essential they could be there to finish the game and now I feel Eden, Axel and Kevin will start against Finland because we need to see how they are and how long they can play and it’s an opportunity for us to stretch their match fitness to a maximum level,” Martinez told a news conference on Friday.
The trio have a combined total of 301 caps and their return to fitness strengthens top-ranked Belgium’s chances of a first major tournament success.
Martinez said it was also always the plan that Thomas Vermaelen would play alongside Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen in defence on Monday.
Dedryck Boyata was used in the third central defence position in the 3-0 win over Russia and Jason Denayer was there for Thursday’s win in Denmark.
“We need to try and win every game,” added Martinez, rebuffing any suggestion of filling out the rest of the starting line-up for their last Group B outing with fringe players.
“There will be changes against Finland but it is exactly the same approach because it prepares you to keep winning.
“We are not here to go as far as we can but rather to be as good as we can. And that means you have to win every game and that prepares you indirectly to be ready for whatever we might be facing ahead.”