Mignolet: Sunderland to thank for Belgium chance

Safc v Birmingham   2-2  Simon Mignolet
Safc v Birmingham 2-2 Simon Mignolet
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SIMON Mignolet admits he has Sunderland to thank for his elevation to the international arena.

Mignolet is expected to retain his place as Belgium’s number one for tomorrow night’s crunch Euro 2012 qualifier with Turkey after making the breakthrough into the senior side last March.

The 22-year-old played in the crucial qualification victories over Austria and Azerbaijan to lift Belgium up to second in Group A.

But the Sunderland keeper believes he wouldn’t have stood a chance of representing his country at senior level if he had still been plying his trade at lowly Belgium top flight outfit St Truiden.

Since his £1million move to Wearside last summer, Mignolet has made 23 Premier League appearances and will fight with the injured Craig Gordon next season to be Sunderland’s first-choice stopper.

Mignolet told the Echo: “If I was still playing in Belgium for my old team, the manager wouldn’t be thinking about me. The team is too small for first-choice players from Belgium.

“When you’re playing in the Premier League week-in, week-out, the manager (Georges Leekens) knows how tough the league is.

“He knows if I’m doing well, he can put me in the international team.

“The Belgium manager has seen me play for Sunderland and seen the big difference between last year in Belgium.

“It was a difficult choice for the manager to make between the four goalies for the last qualifiers. But it’s still too early to say whether I can stay as first-choice in the long term. It all depends on how I perform for Sunderland.”

Belgium lie a point ahead of third-placed Turkey, after playing a game more, ahead of tomorrow’s encounter in Brussels.

Although group leaders Germany are realistically too far ahead of the pack to be caught, victory tomorrow would put the Belgians in pole position to land a place in the qualification play-offs.

Mignolet believes the presence of Premier League players such as Moussa Dembélé, Marouane Fellaini, Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen has given Belgium the confidence that they can qualify for their first major finals in a decade.

“Hopefully I can do this for a long time because there’s a new spirit in the Belgium team,” he added.

“We’ve got quite a lot of talent in Kompany, Vermaelen and Dembele – there’s quite a few playing in England.

“Hopefully we can qualify again for the big tournament. We haven’t done it for 10 years.

“There’s young players as well - we can be a strong team in the next couple of years.

“Germany are too far ahead of us and they’re the best team in the group so we have to focus on second place.

“Turkey is such an important game now.”