Thursday, June 24, 2021

De Bruyne and Witsel sit out Belgium v Russia but progress cheers Martinez

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 11 Jun 2021

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Kevin De Bruyne is progressing well in his injury recovery despite being ruled out of Belgium’s Euro 2020 opener against Russia in St Petersburg.

Manchester City playmaker De Bruyne suffered fractures to his nose and orbital bone during last month’s Champions League final defeat to Chelsea.

The sight of the 29-year-old being groggily helped from the field in Porto initially placed doubts over his participation at Euro 2020, but he has joined up with Roberto Martinez’s squad.

Although Saturday’s Group B opener comes too soon for De Bruyne, Martinez suggested he could feature before the end of the round robin stage, with the recently crowned PFA Footballer of the Year set to resume training alongside his team-mates when they return from their assignment at Krestovsky Stadium.

“It was always a medical direction. Kevin had to go through a few stages and he has been through those,” the Belgium head coach explained at a pre-match news conference on Friday.

“Yesterday he had a very positive day on the grass but it wasn’t with the group.

“The next two days will be really important to get him back into moving freely and starting to get the exercise that is needed before he can come to the group.”

Another experienced member of Martinez’s squad, Borussia Dortmund midfielder Axel Witsel, is closing in on a return to action.

Witsel has not played competitive football since suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in January but was still handed a place in the Red Devils’ 26-man squad.

Like De Bruyne, he has not travelled to St Petersburg.

“The situation with Axel is very clear. He is part of the 26. His work in the past few days has been totally with the group and has been really satisfactory,” Martinez said.

“Then we’re going to take every day to try to add to that normality of Axel with the group. The decision not to travel to St Petersburg was to get another two days of work and then he will join the group again when we come back.

“From that point I don’t expect Axel to miss a lot more.”

He added: “Both players are following an individual programme. We’re very happy with the progress in the last two days.

“Neither could join for tomorrow’s game but both players are progressing really well and they’re going to be with the group as soon as we come back.”

Belgium will be keen to call upon De Bruyne’s creative expertise as soon as possible.

Across 25 Premier League games in 2020-21, he delivered 12 assists at a rate of one every 167 – the most prolific return of any players to record three assists or more in England’s top flight.

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