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Vermaelen retires, joins Belgium coaching staff

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 football federation announced the news on Friday.

The 36-year-old Vermaelen was out of contract after 2.5 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.

Led by Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, Belgium made it to the semifinals at the 2018 World Cup.

They were eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual winners 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.