Axel Witsel says Belgium must prove they belong at the top of the FIFA rankings against Italy in Brussels on Friday.
Marc Wilmots’ side moved above world champions Germany and 2015 Copa America runners-up Argentina to lead the table of international teams for the first time in their history last month.
Belgium topped their qualifying group for Euro 2016, and have lost just once since their World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina last year.
But midfielder Witsel believes the clash with Italy – which is followed by a friendly with Spain on Tuesday – will act as a barometer for how far they have progressed.
“We will approach these matches like any other. We want to prove we deserve our place in the FIFA rankings,” he said.
“Nobody doubts that we have players with great qualities. We must now prove it on the field. After the match against Italy we will know where we are at.”
Lorenzo De Silvestri has been recalled by Italy coach Antonio Conte after overcoming a knee injury sustained while on international duty in June.
And while the Sampdoria defender admits Belgium are a formidable opponent, he insists Italy are full of belief after going through their Euro 2016 qualification campaign unbeaten.
“Belgium can be frightening, but we will face them with enthusiasm,” De Silvestri said.
“We don’t feel inferior to anyone, winning our group without losing helped with that. The FIFA rankings are not important, concentration and training are what counts.”
Di Silvestri went on to outline his ambitions to represent Italy at next year’s finals in France.
“There are so many people fighting for a place in the side but this is normal because the national team is a dream that is coveted by everyone,” he added.
“Now that I’ve come back, the European Championships are the main dream and goal for me.
“I want to use this whole season to grow and improve. I will give absolutely everything I have to convince the coach I’m worthy of a place in the team – that would bring me the ultimate satisfaction.”
Andrea Pirlo featured as Italy secured a 3-1 win over Belgium in their last meeting in May 2008, but missed out on a place in Conte’s squad with the coach suggesting the legendary midfielder’s time in the national team could be over.
Claudio Marchisio is available once again, but Marco Verratti is absent due to an ankle injury.
Belgium will be without Marouane Fellaini and Jordan Lukaku due to injury, with Kevin Mirallas and Sven Kums their replacements.
Michy Batshuayi – who has eight goals in 13 Ligue 1 appearances for Marseille this season – has been drafted back in by Wilmots while Divock Origi was left out.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!