Johan Walem’s ‘Espoirs’ are preparing for the final stage of the Euro U21 tournament. The final stage will be held in Italy and San Marino in June. This is a very critical moment, as Belgium has not got this far in the competition since 2007. It could also see them qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.
Roberto Martinez said being in the final stage is huge and key for a young player’s career. “Belgium hasn’t made to the final stage for more than ten years. This is a unique opportunity for our young players and its very important to their future. They need to learn to be competitive in a big tournament”, the national coach said in Tubize on Friday.
This is an important moment for the Devils too. Zinho Vanheusden, the Standard defender, is in Johan Walem’s team. Walem said his discussions with Roberto Martinez about whether to include Espoirs players in the Devils team so soon have been short. “We are on the same wavelength. Our job is to give our players goals to aim for. Zinho still has to spend a bit more time with the Espoirs. The Euro is a high-profile and top-level competition, so it’s great for them all to be part of it”, Johan Walem said.
“You mentioned Zinho, but there are 5 or 6 other players we need to talk about too”, Roberto Martinez said. “It’s our responsibility to get new players started. But it’s also our responsibility to start them when they are ready. They can’t miss this opportunity to play in the final stage of a big tournament. It will set them up well for the next phase of their career. It will be very beneficial for them, but also for the Devils when they eventually join them”.
Belgium’s Espoirs will play in Denmark on Wednesday to prepare. The Red Devils will play Russia on Thursday and Cyprus on Sunday, their first two Euro 2020 qualifying round matches.
The U21s have reached the European championship for the third time. Belgium was eliminated in the group stages in Switzerland in 2002. The Espoirs got to the semi-finals in the Netherlands in 2007, which qualified them for the 2008 Olympic Games in Peking. Jean-François De Sart was their coach.