As the injuries mount in attack for Belgium, Christian Benteke will be hoping to end a two-year wait to start for his country in its World Cup qualifier against Estonia in Brussels on Saturday.
The Crystal Palace forward has started only three matches for Belgium in the last five years despite 42 call ups since Roberto Martinez took over as coach in 2016, frustratingly consigned to the bench for almost all that time.
But he could get a chance to lead the attack with Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi – both usually ahead of him in the selection pecking order – sitting out this week through injury.
The 30-year-old Benteke won his first cap in 2010 and has collected 42 in total, scoring 16 times for Belgium.
Businessman who organised flight that crashed and killed Sala jailed for 18 months
Liverpool’s Salah named Premier League’s Player of the Month for October
But under Martinez, he has played a paltry 400 minutes and last started an international two years ago, scoring twice in a 6-1 home win over Cyprus. He has been an unused substitute 29 times.
Martinez did select him for the European Championship this year, but he got only six minutes in their group game against Finland, and he was left out of the reduced-sized squad for last month’s Nations League finals in Italy.
Benteke was recalled for Saturday’s qualifier, where a win would see Belgium book its World Cup berth, and the match against Wales in Cardiff on Tuesday.
Benteke had requested a clear the air meeting with Martinez in September to discuss his lack of playing time, which the coach described as a good discussion.
“I want players to be unhappy if they’re not playing,” the coach said at the time.
Ron Flowers: Former Wolves midfielder and member of England’s 1966 World Cup squad dies
“The opposite would not be healthy. I want them to be eager to play and that’s something Christian has always shown. It’s because of that attitude he keeps being selected.”
This week, Martinez was, however, non-committal about Benteke playing: “The good thing about Christian is that every time he has been on the pitch, he has always performed and always been in a very strong mental state, and that’s what we were looking for. We’ve got all the confidence in Christian.”
Benteke is up against Liverpool’s Divock Origi, Club Brugge’s Charles De Ketelaere and new call-up Dante Vanzeir, from Belgium’s league leader Union Saint Gilloise, to lead the line with Martinez expected to tell the players his choice on the morning of the match.