Tedesco puts faith in De Bruyne as injuries plague Belgium opener against Slovaks

June 16 – Domenico Tedesco and Belgium will take on Slovakia in their Euro 2024 opener plagued by defensive worries but confident that marquee midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will steer the team to greater heights. 

The manager clarified that Jan Vertonghen, who hasn’t played since May 5, and Arthur Theate, sidelined since May 12, are fit. Axel Witsel remains a question mark, but he has not been ruled out of the curtain raiser while Thomas Meunier will return to full fitness in a week and a half.

With all the personnel problems, Tedesco admitted that he hasn’t settled yet on a starting eleven: “The decision has not yet been made. A tournament is something special because of the atmosphere and emotions. We’ll see how I sleep and how I get up.”

Belgium’s manager recalled veteran Witsel to the squad to reinforce his defensive options, but the Atletico Madrid player missed out on training the entire week. He also didn’t participate in the last practice session in Freiberg. His absence will compound Tedesco’s defensive worries, who said he is not afraid to field younger players.

The fortunes of the team will largely depend on the fitness and performance of lodestar and Manchester City midfielder De Bruyne, another veteran in the Belgian setup.

He disappointed at the last World Cup in Qatar but struck an optimistic tone. De Bruyne said: “I think we come behind the favourites, maybe more as outside contenders. For many boys, it is their first time here and they want to show that they have their qualities.”

In the last two friendlies, Belgium’s rhythm and attacking intent came from De Bruyne and Tedesco considers him the heartbeat of the team. He wants De Bruyne to take on a leadership role in Germany.

“He has to be the leader of these Devils. A year without Kevin was not easy for us, but it was the right decision to let him rest sometimes. For example, he had a break after the FA Cup final. We tried to gradually build up the efforts. Started cautiously, then increased the workload. I have no doubts about his preparedness,” said Tedesco.

On Monday, Belgium and De Bruyne will be favourites against Slovakia, who impressed in the qualifiers but can’t match their opponents’ individual quality. The Slovakians are playing in their third finals. In 2011, the two sides last met in a friendly and Belgium, with a young De Bruyne, prevailed 2-1.

Tedesco is not underestimating Francesco Calzona’s side. “Their results don’t lie, just like ours. They only lost to Portugal in the qualifications and it was close twice. That sums up their story well. Slovakia plays aggressively and they press high. And above all: they do that for 90 minutes. They don’t stop,” said Tedesco.

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