BRUSSELS: Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj will travel with Belgium to the World Cup after being named as one of two teenage newcomers in the squad Tuesday.
Coach Marc Wilmots had been expected to name a preliminary group of 26 ahead of the tournament beginning in Brazil next month, but instead made a surprise final selection, with the only uncertainty concerning the fitness of the third goalkeeper.
“I’ve gone for 24. I thought it was better to be direct from the start,” Wilmots told a news conference.
Januzaj, born and brought up in Brussels by a family with Balkan origins, only opted to play for Belgium three weeks ago after a strong first season in the Premier League. He was also eligible to play for Kosovo, Serbia and Turkey, and was even touted as a potential future player in the England squad.
Wilmots described Januzaj as a top talent already used to playing big matches in front of large crowds.
“He can play in various positions. For Manchester United he was the best,” he said. “He gives us more options in attack. It’s the right moment to bring him in.”
The only uncertainty concerns the fitness of reserve ’keeper Koen Casteels, who broke his shin in early April. Wilmots has given him the chance to show he has fully recovered by the start of June. Otherwise, his spot will go to Anderlecht’s Silvio Proto.
Januzaj will be among 11 squad members who played in the Premier League this season. There are three from the Belgian and German leagues and two from Spain and Russia.
The other teenager in the squad is surprise call-up Divock Origi, who scored five goals in 29 appearances with Lille in Ligue 1.
Wilmots said the 19-year-old of Kenyan descent bore similarities to Aston Villa forward Christian Benteke, who was ruled out with a torn Achilles tendon. “We watched him against Marseille, Bordeaux and Paris,” Wilmots said.
“He is very quick, has fine technique and a good attitude.”
The oldest player, 36-year-old center back Daniel Van Buyten, is the only squad member with experience at a major tournament, having played with Wilmots in the 2002 World Cup.
Belgium, appearing in the finals for the first time since 2002, will hold a training camp near the eastern city of Genk from May 19, concluding with a friendly against Luxembourg on May 26.
They then move to Stockholm, with a match against Sweden planned for June 1. After a few days at the Belgian coast, they have a friendly in Brussels against Tunisia on June 7. They fly on June 10 to Sao Paolo, where they plan a match behind closed doors against the United States two days later.
Belgium will face Algeria, Russia and South Korea in Group H.
Belgian squad in full
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Koen Casteels (Hoffenheim), Silvio Proto (Anderlecht)
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid), Lauren Ciman (Standard Liege), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit St. Petersburg), Daniel Van Buyten (Bayern Munich), Anthony Vanden Borre (Anderlecht), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur).
Midfielders: Nacer Chadli (Tottenham Hotspur), Kevin De Bruyne (VfL Wolfsburg), Steven Defour (Porto), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham Hotspur), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Axel Witsel (Zenit St. Petersburg)
Forwards: Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United), Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Divock Origi (Lille)
Reserves: Michy Batshuayi (Standard Liege), Guillaume Gillet (Anderlecht), Thorgan Hazard (Zulte Waregem), Radja Nainggolan (AS Roma), Sebastien Pocognoli (Hanover 96), Jelle Van Damme (Standard Liege).