Axel Witsel (Belgium) before the match against the Blues in the League of Nations: “We are not obsessed with this past”
Axel Witsel will honor Thursday against the Blues his 115th selection with Belgium, which he ensures defensive balance especially since the 2014 World Cup. The player from Dortmund, 32, returned for the Euro after the rupture of his tendon. Achilles left in January, a well digested his start to the Championship. First by helping out as a central defender in the first four games of the season. Then by finding his influence in the middle where he brings intensity, technical mastery while participating in the pressing. Born of a Martinican father, he relishes the reunion with the France team against which he lost in the semi-finals of the World Cup in Russia (0-1, 2018). And he is delighted with the absence of Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kanté (positive for Covid-19), whose athletic performance he praises.
“How do you perceive the strong expectation that accompanies this Belgium-France Thursday?
It’s going to be a good game. It will be quite special compared to this World Cup semi-final that we lost (0-1) in 2018. But the players no longer have that in mind. The objective is to have a very good game against a big nation and to qualify for the final on Sunday.
“We’ve been out of this for a long time. We did not discuss it between us. At the time, we were very disappointed not to have qualified for the final after such a journey ”
Is this a rematch of 2018?
No. It’s a League of Nations semi-final. There are four strong teams (with Italy and Spain, the other semi-final this Wednesday). On a desire to do well and to be able to win a trophy together.
But how do you explain the rivalry that persists between the two nations?
The story of this match is different. We won’t be able to change what happened in 2018. Anyway, every time we meet France, it’s pretty special. It was even more so in 2018. But we are not obsessed with the past. We don’t want to put pressure on ourselves but keep a cool head.
What then remains of your “seum” from 2018?
Honestly, we’ve been out of this for a long time. We did not discuss it between us. At the time, we were very disappointed not to be qualified for the final after such a journey. At the same time, it was the best in the history of our country. We also informed of this defeat in terms of stopped phases. If we can remember that … We will have to stay focused on the first to the 95th minute on this specific aspect. France has great qualities, players who can make the difference at any time.
Exactly, which English players do you fear?
Benzema, whose current level is more than high. It’s tough. They have several, top players. Mbappé, Griezmann … It’s already good for us that N’Golo (Kanté) is not present. He has six lungs and thirty-six legs. Then there is Pogba. A very strong environment. And I’m not talking about the other players …
What does this League of Nations represent?
It is clearly below the World Cup or a Euro. You can’t compare. But it is a title to go for.
“Against such an opponent, envy comes naturally. It’s like when you take a big European in the Champions League ”
Is this the best time to face the Blues?
I do not know. Yes if they stay on their month and their September level. No because it remains France. You never know how they’re going to shine in a date.
Has Belgium returned to its 2018 level last month against the Czech Republic (3-0)?
On a reminder more experience. We still have the level of 2018. We are lucky to be able to show it and to be able to stay there.
Is the benchmark match still your success at the Stade de France (4-3, 2015)?
We don’t need a reference. Against such an adversary, envy comes naturally. It’s like when you take a big European in the Champions League.
What is the scope of the returns to selection, for example Kevin De Bruyne, absent last month?
He’s going to do us a lot of good. It’s super important. We are all very well physically and mentally. Kevin scored against Liverpool (2-2, Sunday). I don’t worry about Eden (Hazard, who is no longer systematically starting at Real Madrid). Every time he comes to selection, he is in his head. He just needs goals and assists at the club. As for Romelu (Lukaku, who hasn’t scored since his first goal for Chelsea), every time he comes here he scores, right?
Your missed selection of defenders (Vermaelen still remained in Japan for health reasons). Are you preparing to play in central defense like at the start of the season with Dortmund?
We discussed it last month with the coach. I helped out with my club. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, but that’s not my position. I am middle. “