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Thomas Vermaelen retires, joins Belgium staff ahead of WCup

January 21, 2022 GMT
Belgium's Thomas Vermaelen gestures as he answers journalists during a press conference at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Dedovsk, Russia, Sunday, July 8, 2018. Veteran defender Thomas Vermaelen is retiring and joining Belgium's coaching staff as the national team continues to chase a major title, Belgium's soccer federation announced Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/David Vincent, File)
Belgium's Thomas Vermaelen gestures as he answers journalists during a press conference at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Dedovsk, Russia, Sunday, July 8, 2018. Veteran defender Thomas Vermaelen is retiring and joining Belgium's coaching staff as the national team continues to chase a major title, Belgium's soccer federation announced Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/David Vincent, File)
Belgium's Thomas Vermaelen gestures as he answers journalists during a press conference at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Dedovsk, Russia, Sunday, July 8, 2018. Veteran defender Thomas Vermaelen is retiring and joining Belgium's coaching staff as the national team continues to chase a major title, Belgium's soccer federation announced Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/David Vincent, File)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Veteran defender Thomas Vermaelen is retiring and joining Belgium’s coaching staff as the national team continues to chase a major title.

Belgium’s soccer federation announced the news Friday.

The 36-year-old Vermaelen was out of contract after 2 1/2 years with Japanese club Vissel Kobe, which he joined after leaving Barcelona.

Vermaelen — who also played for Ajax, Arsenal and Roma — will become an assistant to Belgium coach Roberto Martinez.

“His experience during his exceptional career for club and the Red Devils will be a huge asset for our technical staff,” Martinez said.

Vermaelen played 85 matches for Belgium, scoring two goals.

He will help his former teammates prepare for the World Cup in Qatar, where Belgium’s golden generation of players will try to end a run of disappointments at big tournaments.

“I am looking forward to this challenge immensely,” Vermaelen said.

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Led by the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, Belgium made it to the semifinals at the 2018 World Cup. It was eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual winner Italy at the European Championship last year. Martinez’s players missed another chance to win a trophy in October when they lost to France in the Nations League semifinals.

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