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Nainggolan ends Belgium career after World Cup snub

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As World Cup squads fill out their rosters ahead of next month’s great tournament in Russia, a number of high-profile names won’t feature at the World Cup.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Spanish Chelsea trio ]

Belgium named its 28-man provisional squad on Monday, which includes Premier League stars Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, however, one notable midfielder was left out of Roberto Martinez’s squad.

Radja Nainggolan won’t be on the plane to Russia next month for the Red Devils, who take on England, Panama and Tunisia in the group stage.

That decision by Martinez has prompted the AS Roma midfielder to end his international career, which Nainggolan revealed in a social media post following the announcement.

Martinez commented on the Roma player’s omission from the roster.

“Radja is a top player,” Martinez said. “The reason is tactical. In the last two years the team has worked in a specific manner. Other players had those roles.

“We know that he has a very important role in his club and we cannot give him that role in our squad.”

Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan

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BRUSSELS (AP) Belgium left midfielder Radja Nainggolan out of its World Cup squad despite a standout season with Champions League semifinalist Roma.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has long had a difficult relationship with the stormy midfielder. But after being called up for a warm-up game in March against Saudi Arabia, expectations had been that he would be on the 28-man roster announced Monday.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Chelsea trio ]

On top of the troubled relationship, Nainggolan was also the victim of the unparalleled wealth of talent the small nation has produced over the past few years.

Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku were all named in the squad, which will be cut to 23 before the World Cup.

Vincent Kompany talks third PL title, Belgium outlook and more

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Sports often extend beyond their respective playing field to reach a greater purpose, and that truth shone for a family that has been tied to Manchester City for many years.

[ MORE: Confident Fulham, USMNT defender Tim Ream speaks with PST ]

A large contingent of New York-based Citizen supporters gathered in Manhattan on Friday evening to honor the late Steve “Jepo” Jepson — a fanatical Man City fan who brought his passion for his boyhood club to the United States in 2007.

Jepo’s long battle with ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — came to a devastating end in December 2017, but his family had the opportunity to receive a tremendous surprise on behalf of his favorite side.

Pauline’s wife, Pauline, and two sons, Ben and Sam, were greeted by many friendly Man City faces at Amity Hall on Friday night, however, there was one warm welcome that the family hadn’t anticipated.

Upon finding their way to a private section in the back of the bar, the Jepson family quickly found themselves pleasantly greeted with chants of “Here’s to you, Vincent Kompany. We love you more than will know.”

Those chants were then followed by the Man City captain himself, one Vincent Kompany.

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Pro Soccer Talk caught up with the Belgium defender prior to the event, and discussed the Citizens’ historic 2017/18 season, Kompany’s expectations for Belgium at the World Cup and much more.

PST’s Matt Reed: The club and yourself have been visiting the U.S. on a more regular basis over recent years. Can you just talk about the experiences you’ve had stateside and are you surprised at all by the following that club has in America?

Vincent Kompany: I think we’ve always had a very big, hardcore fanbase, but clearly it was mainly in the UK for many years. I think as people traveled we expanded in that way. But over the years, and I’ve been at the club for 10 years, every single year we come back to America there’s something about the team that seems to catch on with the fans in America. I don’t know what to expect out there, but I just hope to see another confirmation of how well we are doing and how we are connecting with the fans. It’s about creating loyalty.

MR: Man City has been able to participate in the International Champions Cup for several years now. Is the tournament as enjoyable for the players as it is for the supporters? 

VK: It’s a weird one because for us we’re in preseason, so we call it friendly games, but in recent years they haven’t been friendly games anymore. We played Tottenham Hotspur, I remember, and it was an intense game. We finished the game, and it felt like we had played a Premier League game. It was meant to be a preseason game, but then we played Real Madrid with 100,000 fans in the Colosseum. There’s another moment in you where you can allow yourself to not make the most of this environment. We play big games and when you fill big stadiums, that competitive drive comes back in and less and less I’d call them friendly games.

MR: Having been at the club for 10 years now, you’ve been involved in several title runs. This one was obviously significantly different than say 2011/12, where it came down to the final day. Taking it into account that City reached 100 points and all the other records your side broke, is this the best team you’ve ever played for?

VK: Yeah, it’s the best team I’ve ever played on. I think the big difference between the first time we won and now was that the first time was bigger for Man City’s recent history because it allowed everything else to happen after that. I think that the title now, in the history of football, is a very meaningful title. It takes it to another level, but nothing could have happened for us the way it did without winning that first title.

MR: There was a lot of stress put on Pep Guardiola when he first arrived in England, and after finishing third last season that sort of carried over to 2017/18. Do you think he’s been hard on himself for not capturing the Champions League, despite all the amazing things your club accomplished this year?

VK: No, unfortunately we’ve been hit by history in this case. We’ve always had difficult games at Anfield. They’ve always given us trouble no matter the situation. They [Liverpool] are just a team that have habitually given us trouble, and we went through a similar event in the FA Cup. We played Wigan, and if you know our history, Wigan is a team that usually kicks us out of the FA Cup. Unfortunately we drew Wigan in the FA Cup and Liverpool in the Champions League, and it just shows that we have to deal with these two fixtures in the future.

Question: This will be your second World Cup with Belgium. There’s going to be greater expectations this time around for your country. How are you guys feeling heading into the tournament?

VK: First of all, for me personally, I will be the player with the least stress. I will have zero percent stress. Everything that I have today is a bonus. I was written off so many times before and I just enjoy training and being there. I enjoy coming into games and training  sessions where I can feel that I’m as good, or better than, the players I’m playing against. For me, it’s already won. And at the same time, because I prepare so well, I don’t have worry too much about what’s going to happen on the pitch. Everything takes care of itself.

Question: Do you find yourself watching MLS on a regular basis? And are there any teams in particular you like to watch?

VK: Probably once a week I’ll see a game. I try to watch as many games of New York City as I can, but with the time difference sometimes it’ll be like 2 o’clock in the morning. I’ve seen a few games of LA FC as well because they have a Belgian player, Laurent Ciman. And yes, the level is improving so much.

Vertonghen injured in warmups, out of Spurs season finale

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Oft-injured defender Jan Vertonghen was injured in warmups as Spurs got ready to host Leicester City on the final day of the Premier League season, and has been pulled from their starting lineup.

Vertonghen, who will be 32 years old as next season gets under way, has struggled with injuries in years past, but has had a relatively clean campaign this time around, playing 36 times in the Premier League, missing just a February game against Crystal Palace. He limped off with an ankle injury in the latter stages of a 1-0 win over Newcastle last time out, but was expected to fully recover for Sunday’s season finale.

[ WATCH LIVE: Tottenham vs. Leicester City ]

He will be hoping to earn his 100th cap for Belgium at the 2018 World Cup in Russia this summer, but now with the potential of a new muscle problem or a recurrence of his ankle injury from last time out, that could possibly be in doubt. Vertonghen was replaced by Victory Wanyama in the Spurs lineup against Leicester. There is no word as of yet on what the injury might be or how serious it is. It’s possible that, with little on the line for Spurs on the final day, that his withdrawal is simply precautionary.

With Vertonghen out of the lineup, Leicester City went ahead early and bagged a pair of goals inside the opening 20 minutes.

Belgium is in World Cup Group G and will open play on June 18 against Panama, with England and Tunisia also among their opponents.

Man United release Lukaku injury update

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Romelu Lukaku is facing a race against time to be fit for the FA Cup final at Wembley on May 19.

Lukaku, 24, has been out with an ankle injury he suffered in the 2-1 win against Arsenal on April 29 and Jose Mourinho had previously been hopeful that United’s leading goalscorer would make the showpiece game against Chelsea.

Speaking ahead of United’s final game of the Premier League season against Watford on Sunday, Mourinho revealed the latest on Lukaku.

“We hope he can play in the final. He is in Belgium, having his treatment with communication between the doctors in Belgium and our medical department,” Mourinho said. “We are just waiting to see if it’s possible for him to be involved in the final. If not starting, then at least on the bench.”

So, it appears Lukaku’s injury is a little more serious than Mourinho and United first feared as the powerful forward has another week to get himself ready. The clock is ticking.

If United lose Lukaku for the final, it’s a huge blow. Their past two games (a 1-0 defeat at Brighton last Friday and a 0-0 draw at West Ham on Thursday) without Lukaku proved that. Both Marcus Rashford and Alexis Sanchez have played as the central striker in Lukaku’s absence but have struggled massively.

Lukaku has scored 27 goals in all competitions this season, his first as a United player, but aside from his goals his link up play has improved and he has bullied defenders all season long.

Rashford and Anthony Martial will both play against Watford on Sunday, according to Mourinho, and that seems like a straight audition for who starts in the FA Cup final against the former club of both Mourinho and Lukaku.

With a second-place finish secured in the Premier League, Mourinho will badly want to finish the season with a trophy to go along with the three he won in his debut season at United.

Not having Lukaku available from the start would put a huge dent in United’s hopes of FA Cup success and, at least right now, it hands Chelsea a big advantage. Lukaku is that important to the way United play that his absence probably makes Chelsea slight favorites to win the FA Cup.