Simon Mignolet
Simon Mignolet impressed Belgium's Marc Wilmots when the team played against Italy Getty

Belgium manager Marc Wilmots says he has been very impressed with the progress made by Liverpool's Simon Mignolet, insisting the goalkeeper would have started in goal during the international break even if Chelsea' Thibaut Courtois had been fit. Mignolet has been second choice for his country ever since Courtois' rise to prominence, but with the Chelsea goalkeeper currently sidelined after undergoing knee surgery in September, the former has had the chance to step up.

The Liverpool custodian started as Belgium strengthened their position as Fifa's no. 1 ranked side in world football with a 3-1 win over Italy on Friday 13 November. Wilmots says the 27-year-old will remain in his first team plans for Tuesday's friendly with Spain, praising the shot stopper's mentality.

"Mignolet is now 27 years old and so is now coming to his best age," Wilmots told a press conference, Voetbal24 report. "That he was good against Italy did not surprise me. Something can always happen with Thibaut Courtois and Simon's mentality is an example to the squad.

"It was not easy for him to give up his place as no. 1. Simon would have played against Italy and Spain even if Thibaut had been fit. It is a sign of respect for him and his work over the last few years."

Mignolet was briefly Belgium's first choice goalkeeper but Courtois' rise, while playing on loan for Atletico Madrid from Chelsea, saw him take over in 2012.

The Liverpool keeper's impressive performance against Italy – where he made four important saves to keep his side ahead – will help ensure he is part of the squad for France 2016 next summer.

Italy midfielder Antonio Candreva was quick to praise the goalkeeper's performance, telling Rai Sport: "Every game is a lesson to be learned. Their goalkeeper was man of the match, we played a great game but do not deserve to lose by two goals."