Romelu Lukaku hoped to have answered some of his critics with a hat-trick in Belgium's Euro 2024 qualifying opener at Sweden.

Lukaku scored all three goals as Belgium claimed a 3-0 win in what had looked like being the toughest game of their campaign.

Goals have not flowed so easily at club level this season, with Lukaku returning to Inter and scoring just three time in Serie A – albeit while hampered by injury.

But Friday's game was a step in the right direction as Belgium's record goalscorer said: "It was not an easy game, but we can be satisfied. We did well.

"I am happy that I can play minutes and show the outside world what I can do."

The "outside world" had been an issue for Belgium at the 2022 World Cup, Lukaku suggested, as he reflected following the Sweden game on their group-stage exit.

"I was extremely disappointed," he said, as reported by HLN. "For the first time, we let ourselves be affected by the sounds of the outside world.

"The team has always been close and you saw that today. When I scored, everyone jumped up. We must continue this momentum."

Lukaku's match-winning turn came in the first game under new coach Domenico Tedesco, with Belgium leaving their Qatar disappointment behind in a new era following Roberto Martinez's departure.

"We started to play much more offensively," Lukaku said of their approach under Tedesco. "We haven't had much time to prepare, but I'm happy.

"Change is not a bad thing, as long as the results follow."

Romelu Lukaku scored a hat-trick as Belgium kicked off a new era under Domenico Tedesco with a 3-0 win over Sweden on Friday in their opening Euro 2024 qualifier.

The Red Devils replaced Roberto Martinez with Tedesco after exiting the World Cup at the group stage, while a number of big names also retired from international football.

Tedesco's tenure got off to a flying start at Friends Arena in Stockholm, where Lukaku's header and a close-range finish either side of half-time had the visitors in control.

Sweden brought on 41-year-old striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Lukaku completed his treble in the 82nd minute to round off a comfortable victory.

Dejan Kulusevski almost gave Sweden the lead when his shot trickled towards goal after Thibaut Courtois got a hand to it, only for Wout Faes to clear off the line.

It was the visitors who opened the scoring 10 minutes before the interval when Dodi Lukebakio's right-sided cross was glanced in by the head of Lukaku.

The on-loan Inter striker doubled his tally with a tap-in from a yard out after Lukebakio burst into the box, got away from his man and once again picked out his team-mate.

Sweden struggled to ask any real questions of Courtois, despite the introduction of Ibrahimovic, and Lukaku made certain of the win when given a simple finish by Johan Bakayoko.

Leandro Trossard is delighted by his fast start in an Arsenal shirt and is optimistic of his new club's chances of winning the Premier League.

Trossard was a January signing for Mikel Arteta's side after the Belgium forward impressed in the first half of the season at Brighton and Hove Albion, scoring seven goals in 16 league games.

Since joining the league leaders, Trossard has only scored once but provided six assists in just 10 league games to help Arsenal rebuild an eight-point gap to Manchester City in second.

And the former Brighton has been surprised at how quickly he has settled.

"I maybe didn't expect to make that many minutes, but injuries helped me a bit. I’m however more than convinced of my own capabilities," Trossard said, speaking at a national team press conference on Wednesday. 

"I arrived in a great group, filled with great players. That also makes it easier for new players to adapt and reach their levels.

"It was a very busy and weird period for me, but I'm very happy that I have been able to join Arsenal. I think it's been a great step for me.

"We all know how difficult it is to win the league, looking at Man City and Liverpool in recent years, but I think we have a great squad and that we have proven time and time again that we're doing well. 

"There are 10 matches left, we'll see where we end once the season finishes."

The 28-year-old is set to feature heavily for Belgium after the retirement of fellow forward and former captain Eden Hazard.

City's Kevin De Bruyne has taken the armband, and Trossard is confident the midfielder and new head coach Domenico Tedesco will prove the difference as Belgium look to rally following their group-stage exit at the 2022 World Cup.

"[De Bruyne] has a lot of experience at the highest level," Trossard said. "He knows everybody here, since he's been here for a while already. 

"A lot of the younger guys look up to him – I think that's a really big advantage for a national team captain if people look up to you.

"We have a new manager, a new staff, and I'm excited to make this new start as well.

"We're looking sharp, everybody wants to prove themselves. We also have a lot of youngsters, there's a lot of renewed competition, and it's clear everybody wants to give it their all."

Belgium have confirmed Kevin De Bruyne will serve as their new captain.

Manchester City star De Bruyne takes over from Eden Hazard, who announced his retirement from international football in December following Belgium's group stage exit at the 2022 World Cup.

That elimination marked the end of Roberto Martinez's time in charge, and De Bruyne will be tasked with leading the side under the stewardship of new coach Domenico Tedesco.

De Bruyne has won 97 caps for Belgium, scoring 25 goals.

Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and striker Romelu Lukaku, on loan at Inter from Chelsea, have been named as vice-captains.

Belgium will begin their campaign to qualify for Euro 2024 on Friday when they face Sweden in Stockholm. They have also been drawn alongside Austria, Azerbaijan and Estonia in Group F.

Tedesco's men face Euro 2024 hosts Germany in a friendly on March 28.

Jamal Musiala has withdrawn from Germany's squad for the March international break, with the Bayern Munich forward ruled out with a hamstring strain.

The attacker, who has won 20 caps for his country since his debut in 2021, had been called up for the team's friendlies with Peru and Belgium.

But he will no longer link up with Hansi Flick's squad after he picked up a leg problem during Bayern's 2-1 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga on Sunday.

Flick confirmed the news ahead of his team's open recovery session in Frankfurt on Monday, and confirmed he would not call up a replacement for Musiala.

"We [had] all hoped that Jamal would be fit, because he has unique qualities," he said. "That's why it's a shame for everyone that he won't be with us.

"We hope he is fit again as soon as possible and that he is back playing after the international matches."

Musiala, who was capped by both England and Germany at youth level before declaring for the latter, made his debut against Iceland in March 2021.

He was a member of their squads at both Euro 2020 – where they were knocked out by the Three Lions – and the Qatar 2022 World Cup, where they were eliminated in the group stages.

In his absence, Germany will face Peru in Mainz on Saturday before they travel to Cologne for a clash with Belgium three days later, with Die Nationalmannschaft not required to qualify for Euro 2024 as the host nation.

Southampton midfielder Romeo Lavia has earned his first senior Belgium call-up but there is no place for Axel Witsel in Domenico Tedesco's first squad as coach

The Saints man enters the fray in the Red Devils' first selection following Roberto Martinez's exit at the conclusion of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Lavia, a Belgium youth international, is the only new name among a squad that mixes experience and youth, including the country's most-capped player in Anderlecht's Jan Vertonghen.

But Atletico Madrid midfielder Witsel, who only trails Vertonghen when it comes to appearances for the national team, is an eye-catching omission as Tedesco looks to leave his mark.

Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski has been recalled in place of the retired Simon Mignolet.

Other names earning a return to the fold include Nottingham Forest midfielder Orel Mangala and Wolfsburg defender Sebastiaan Bornauw, both of whom were last capped against Burkina Faso a year ago.

Belgium open their Euro 2024 qualification campaign against Sweden next Friday, before they play a friendly against hosts Germany a week on Tuesday.

The team endured a lacklustre World Cup campaign last year, failing to progress from Group F after defeat against Morocco and a goalless draw with Croatia.

Belgium squad: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Thomas Kaminski (Blackburn Rovers), Matz Sels (Strasbourg); Sebastiaan Bornauw (Wolfsburg), Timothy Castagne (Leicester City), Zeno Debast (Anderlecht), Wout Faes (Leicester City), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund), Arthur Theate (Rennes), Jan Vertonghen (Anderlecht); Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Charles De Ketelaere (Milan), Romeo Lavia (Southampton). Orel Mangala (Nottingham Forest), Amadou Onana (Everton), Dennis Praet (Leicester City), Alexis Saelemaekers (Milan); Jeremy Doku (Rennes), Romelu Lukaku (Inter), Dodi Lukebakio (Hertha BSC), Lois Openda (Lens), Leandro Trossard (Arsenal).

Thomas Muller will be left out of Hansi Flick's upcoming Germany squad, but the head coach has not "shut the door" on the Bayern Munich forward.

Muller is fourth on his nation's all-time caps list (121) behind only Lothar Matthaus (150), Miroslav Klose (137) and Lukas Podolski (130), while his tally of 44 goals puts him seventh.

A World Cup winner in 2014, the 33-year-old said he would contemplate his international future following Germany's group-stage exit from the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

Muller has been directly involved in 11 goals for Bayern this season (scored four, assisted seven), with only Jamal Musiala (eight) registering more assists for the Bundesliga leaders.

However, Flick revealed the forward will play no part in the friendlies against Belgium and Peru later this month, though the head coach has left the door open for a potential return with Germany hosting next year's European Championship.

"I discussed with Thomas that he will not be called up to the games in March and June," Flick told Suddeutsche Zeitung.

"I want to give younger players a chance with the national team. But that doesn't mean that his Germany career is over or that he won't play a role at the Euros.

"He sees things the way I do. As a national team player, you don't retire. You either get a call-up or you don't, and he's now on hold until the summer.

"Why would I shut the door on a player like that forever? Look at his current importance for Bayern. He's totally important again, and I'm very happy for him."

 

Flick also insists there are no guarantees that Manuel Neuer will remain his first-choice goalkeeper upon his return from injury, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen or Kevin Trapp likely to be handed opportunities in the friendlies.

The Bayern captain, and Germany's most-capped goalkeeper with 117 appearances, is out for the season having broken his leg during a skiing trip shortly after the World Cup.

"The performance concept is in the foreground," Flick added. "There's nothing set in stone — Manu knows that.

"I am convinced that he will reach his performance limit when he becomes 100 per cent fit again."

Thierry Henry has denied putting himself forward to replace Roberto Martinez as Belgium head coach.

Martinez's reign came to an end after the Red Devils' World Cup failure in Qatar and the Spaniard was on Monday appointed as Portugal boss.

Henry was Martinez's assistant and it has been reported that the France legend contacted the Royal Belgian Football Association expressing his desire to take the top job.

However, the 45-year-old says that is not the case.

He told Sky Sports News: "I would like to make it abundantly clear that contrary to written reports, I have never contacted the Belgian FA offering my services as the new first team coach.

"I think it's vital that the truthful version of facts is always presented."

Belgium's all-time leading goalscorer Romelu Lukaku this month confidently stated that Henry will succeed Martinez.

"For me, Henry is the next coach of Belgium. There are no doubts. I say it openly: he will be the next coach," Lukaku told Italian broadcaster Sky Sport.

"He has the respect of all the players, he has won everything. He knows how to coach, he knows what we have to do to get there.

"He knows the team, the league, the staff. For me, he is the ideal coach for our national team. Then I don't know who they will take. But I don't think Belgium should start from scratch.

"So far this generation hasn't won, but we have to keep trying to win. He wants to win, and I don't think the federation is going to get a coach who wants to change everything and start from scratch. It's not worth it to me."

 

Portugal have appointed Roberto Martinez as their new head coach.

Fernando Santos called time on his eight-year stint at the helm last month, a decision which followed Portugal's surprise World Cup defeat to Morocco.

Santos led Portugal to the quarter-finals in Qatar, where he benched Cristiano Ronaldo for the Selecao's two knockout games – a comprehensive 6-1 win over Switzerland and the 1-0 loss to the Atlas Lions.

Martinez, who was presented as Portugal's new coach on Monday and has reportedly signed a four-year deal, became a free agent shortly before Santos' exit, leaving his role as Belgium coach after the Red Devils slumped to a dismal group-stage exit in Qatar.

Former Wigan Athletic and Everton boss Martinez led Belgium to their best World Cup campaign when they clinched third place at Russia 2018, though his failure to deliver silverware with a crop of players said to be the country's "golden generation" has attracted criticism.

Martinez oversaw 61 games during his six-year spell in charge of Belgium, winning 47 (77 per cent).

Belgium beat Canada in their opening match in Qatar but a defeat to Morocco and draw with Croatia saw them slump eliminated from a World Cup group for the first time since 1998.

They entered the World Cup second in FIFA's world rankings, but dropped to fourth after their failure to reach the knockout round.

Upon taking the job, one of Martinez's foremost challenges will be to make a decision on the international future of Ronaldo, who has joined Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia following the termination of his contract with Manchester United.

Though Ronaldo recognised his "most ambitious dream" was over after failing to inspire Portugal to glory at his fifth World Cup, the 37-year-old is yet to retire from international football.

Portugal will begin their qualification campaign for Euro 2024 at home to Liechtenstein on March 23, having been drawn into a group also containing Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Slovakia and Luxembourg.

Jamaican footballer Tarick Ximines has signed a two-and-a-half-year deal with Belgian Pro League club Cercle Brugge K.S.V, the club made the announcement via social media on Wednesday.

Ximines, 18, played a vital role in Jamaica College’s success in the recently-concluded schoolboy football season which saw them win the Manning Cup and Champions Cup double.

He also played for two Jamaica Premier League teams Harbour View and Mount Pleasant, scoring one goal in 16 games for the former and one goal in five appearances for the latter.

Ximines has also made two appearances for the Reggae Boyz and became the youngest ever Reggae Boy to feature for the senior team in a Concacaf World Cup Qualifier at 17 years and 5 months when he made his debut against Canada at the BMO Field on March 27.

Thierry Henry should be the man to replace Roberto Martinez as Belgium head coach, according to striker Romelu Lukaku.

Belgium are seeking a new boss after Martinez stood down following a galling group-stage exit from the World Cup, having spent six years and four months in the role.

Former Arsenal, Barcelona and France striker Henry joined him as assistant for two stints, either side of spells in charge of Monaco and Montreal Impact.

If Belgium are seeking a clean break from the Martinez era, then Henry would not be an option, but Red Devils record goalscorer Lukaku believes there should be continuity.

Inter frontman Lukaku also says his country's so-called 'golden generation' deserve another chance to deliver on the big stage, although Eden Hazard has already retired from international football.

"For me, Henry is the next coach of Belgium. There are no doubts. I say it openly: he will be the next coach," Lukaku told Italian broadcaster Sky Sport.

"He has the respect of all the players, he has won everything. He knows how to coach, he knows what we have to do to get there.

"He knows the team, the league, the staff. For me, he is the ideal coach for our national team. Then I don't know who they will take. But I don't think Belgium should start from scratch.

"So far this generation hasn't won, but we have to keep trying to win. He wants to win, and I don't think the federation is going to get a coach who wants to change everything and start from scratch. It's not worth it to me."

Lukaku's comments may prove awkward if another coach is picked to lead Belgium.

Belgium struggled to beat Canada in their opening World Cup game before suffering a 2-0 defeat against Morocco, with their exit confirmed by a goalless stalemate with Croatia.

The Royal Belgian Football Association (RBFA) has said it will look to hire "a serial winner with an experience in managing top players".

Belgium have slipped from second to fourth in the latest FIFA rankings after their dismal performance in Qatar, where they failed to reach the knockout stage for the first time since the 1998 finals in France.

The RBFA said, in advertising for Martinez's successor, that it was looking for applications to arrive by January 10.

Belgium have been drawn alongside Austria, Sweden, Azerbaijan and Estonia in the qualification process for Euro 2024, with the first round of games coming up in March.

Former Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez told his players he would be leaving after the World Cup following their shock defeat by Morocco - a result he admits "will haunt for me a long time".

Semi-finalists in 2018, the world's second-ranked side suffered a surprise group-stage elimination in Qatar after finishing third in Group F.

The Red Devils struggled past Canada in their opening game before suffering a 2-0 defeat against Morocco, while their premature exit was confirmed by a goalless stalemate with Croatia.

It brought the curtain down on a poor tournament that also saw Martinez and several players forced to dismiss reports of a rift within the squad.

The Spaniard, who subsequently stepped down after six years in the role, also denied rumours of any friction within the camp in his first interview since departing.

"It's the match against Morocco that will haunt me for a long time," he said. "We weren't ourselves. A bit like against Canada by the way. We were not in the state to win these games.

"Against Croatia, it was different. We are probably the team that created the most chances against the Croatians. You won't find any tactical or technical expert who can explain to you why we didn't score in the last half hour. A matter of millimetres.

"I told the group after the defeat against Morocco that I would stop after the World Cup in Qatar. 

"In a way, everyone knew that the match against Croatia could be the last. I would have liked to say goodbye on December 19 [the day after the final].

"Fake news has grown in importance. When L'Equipe writes that Jan Vertonghen and Eden Hazard had fallen out, the group had the impression that all the media were jumping on the information.

"So, we decided to distance ourselves from the outside world. The core wanted to show that the group is solid. And from that moment on, you saw another team. It made us stronger. How many percent of what L'Equipe said was true? Zero, nothing, nada."

Martinez felt Belgium's lack of preparation was also a factor in their poor performance in Qatar, with a 2-1 defeat against Egypt representing the only friendly the Red Devils played before the tournament commenced.

But the 49-year-old has fond memories of their run to the semi-finals in Russia four years earlier, including the homecoming parade in Brussels.

"In 2018, we had three warm-up matches. Not this time," Martinez added. 

"Several countries used this group stage as preparation. That was the price to pay for a tournament in the winter. Unfortunately, we needed two games to be ready.

"In 2018, I already felt at the airport [before the finals] that the team was ready - emotionally and tactically.

"Here, I only felt that two days before the game against Croatia. After the match against Egypt, I felt that we were not ready. Nothing was rolling for us.

"On the Grand Place in Brussels. I cherish that image from 2018 for life, it is burned on my retina. It will encourage me to keep working in football."

Argentina's World Cup triumph has moved them up to second in FIFA's world rankings, but Lionel Messi's Golden Ball-winning exploits were not enough for top spot.

La Albiceleste defeated France on penalties in a thrilling final that ended 3-3 after extra time at Qatar 2022, ending their 36-year wait for the sport's biggest prize.

But despite it proving fifth time lucky for talisman Messi, it is Argentina's closest rivals Brazil who top the world rankings at the end of the year.

The Selecao were knocked out in the quarter-finals following a penalty shoot-out loss to Croatia, but Tite's side hold on to their place at the summit.

It ends a run of four consecutive years when Belgium have ended the calendar year as the world's top-ranked nation in men's international football, with the Red Devils dropping to fourth.

Their descent allows France to move a place up the ladder, to sit third behind Argentina, while England round out the top five in an unchanged position.

A shock loss to Morocco sees Spain slip down the list to 10th, with the African nation in 11th, while Croatia enjoy a major bump to go seventh at Denmark's expense.

Indeed, Denmark suffer one of the biggest drops, down to 18th, with the Netherlands, Italy and Portugal rounding out the rest of the upper echelons.

Other countries enduring slides down the rankings after poor World Cups include Germany, Uruguay and Wales, but there are boosts for Japan, Australia and Cameroon after impressive performances.

Eden Hazard has announced his retirement from international football in the wake of Belgium's disappointing performance at the World Cup.

The Red Devils were underwhelming in an opening 1-0 win over Canada but defeat to Morocco and a draw with Croatia saw them exit Group F.

Head coach Roberto Martinez, who four years previously had led Belgium to the semi-finals in Russia, confirmed his departure after that game.

Real Madrid winger Hazard has now also called time on his spell with the national team, announcing his decision on Instagram.

"A page turns today… Thank you for your love. Thank you for your unparalleled support," he wrote.

"Thank you for all this happiness shared since 2008. I have decided to put an end to my international career. The succession is ready. I will miss you."

Hazard was part of a team dubbed Belgium's 'Golden Generation' alongside the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois.

The former Chelsea star racked up 126 caps for his country and scored 33 goals, making his debut as a substitute against Luxembourg back in 2008.

His first experience of an international tournament came at the 2014 World Cup where Belgium made the quarter-finals, and he skippered his country at Euro 2016 in the absence of Vincent Kompany where they again lost in the last eight – this time to Wales.

A 1-0 defeat to eventual champions France curtailed their run in Russia four years ago and more quarter-final pain was in store at the hands of Italy at last year's rescheduled Euro 2020.

Belgium's campaign in Qatar was beset by rumours of rifts in the camp, with Hazard himself suggesting the team's best chance of success was in 2018 – a suggestion echoed by De Bruyne, who said the age of the squad was too old to compete.

Thibaut Courtois says Belgium's current crop of players should not be considered the country's "golden generation" after their dire World Cup campaign in Qatar.

Belgium finished third at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 despite a series of underwhelming displays, leading to hopes of a renewed World Cup bid this year.

However, the world's number-two ranked side suffered a humiliating group-stage exit after following up a 1-0 win over Canada with a defeat to Morocco and a goalless draw with Croatia. 

The Red Devils' current squad – which includes a series of household names including Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard – has often been described as Belgium's "golden generation", but Courtois says that depiction is inaccurate.

"It's a little shameful they called us the golden generation of Belgium when we didn't win anything," Courtois told ESPN.

"We are not a golden generation; we are a generation that had a lot of talent and great players in several European clubs.

"In Russia, in 2018, we showed that we were a Belgium that played good football. In this World Cup and in the Euro [2020] we were not ourselves."

Courtois, a veteran of three World Cup campaigns, will be 34 when the next edition of the tournament begins, but he has no intention of calling time on his international career before then.

"We'll see what will happen, who will stay, who will end their career. I want to play in this [next] World Cup, yes," Courtois said.

"We still have good players and others will arrive. When they finish their career in the national team, it will be in a good phase, not like this."

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