The Belgium team has a history of getting close to winning major football tournaments but falling just short.
They also have a history of producing fantastic footballers and their No.1 status by FIFA is no fluke. They can boast of an Olympic gold medal-that was 101 years ago when Antwerp hosted the Games.
On Friday at the Football Arena in Munich, the Red Devils face a tricky tie against a confident Azzurri side, who have not lost since September 2018 – a sequence of 31 matches. They are also on a 12-match winning run in which Roberto Mancini’s side has conceded just one goal.
Roberto Martinez’s Belgium side is also on a good run-unbeaten in 2021; nine matches – in which they have outscored their opponents 22-4. In their last match, the 1-0 win over Portugal, Belgium had to defend valiantly to book their place and Austria took Italy to extra time before two substitutes; Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina scored the goals that booked their place against Belgium.
Belgium are sweating on the fitness or lack of for two of their best players – Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard. Both got injured against Portugal and had to be substituted but we cannot overemphasise their importance to this team. For the Italians, Marco Verratti is a slight doubt though team captain, Giorgio Chiellini, could return and also the PSG wing-back, Alessandro Florenzi.
The battle of the two Robertos could boil down to how they iterate when the match is on and not how they deploy their starting 11. One stick with which we have often hit Martinez on the head since he became manager of Belgium in 2016 is his dull tactics and placid substitutions.
Mancini, on the other hand, is a serial winner and has galvanized an Italian team shod of a world-class superstar.
With so many attacking elements at his disposal and Romelu Lukaku in imperious form, Belgium should create more goal-scoring chances but at this tournament, the Azzurri have created the most chances-87, and have scored the second-most goals.
13/06/16 EUC Belgium 0 – 2 Italy
13/11/15 FRI Belgium 3 – 1 Italy
30/05/08 FRI Italy 3 – 1 Belgium
14/06/00 EUC Italy 2 – 0 Belgium
13/11/99 FRI Italy 1 – 3 Belgium
Trend to ponder
The Italians win the tournament matches and leave Belgium with wins in friendlies.
What the managers are saying
“We will play our own game, always respecting the team we are facing because we know how good they are. There are no easy games as we have seen in this tournament. Belgium are certainly one of the best teams in the world right now but it does not change much because every game is difficult at this stage of the tournament.”
– Roberto Mancini, Italy’s Manager
“Italy will attack from the very first second; they will be very structured and dynamic. Every player knows his role. The game against Portugal was a game that could have been played a lot further down the line; usually, players don’t play these physical and intense games at this stage of the tournament.”
– Roberto Martínez, Belgium’s Manager
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