Euro 2020: Battle Royale on the cards as Italy square off against Belgium in quarterfinal

Belgium came into the competition as favourites whereas Italy has made themselves into the most feared in Euro 2020 so far.

Italy national team training session ahead of their Euro 2020 quarter-final match against Belgium: Credit: Twitter/@azzurri

Two heavyweights in world football, Italy and Belgium square off for a spot in the semi-finals of Euro 2020. Belgium, which is the number 1 ranked national football team in the World, came into the tournament as favourites. They have justified that tag so far. Italy, who failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, are now the most feared team in the competition.

Thorgan Hazard’s impressive first half strike was enough to eliminate the defending champions Portugal in the round of 16. The Red Devils are coming into the quarter-final match after four wins. They started the tournament with an impressive 3-0 win against Russia. They came back from a goal down to beat Denmark 2-1 thanks to Kevin de Bruyne’s superb performance. Belgium comfortably beat Finland 2-0 in the final group match.

The Red Devils have now won 14 consecutive games. This includes ten wins in the qualifying campaign and four in Euro 2020. Therefore they have now leveled the record with Germany and quarter-final opponents Italy. That means the winning team will set a new record at Munich in the second quarter-final match.

Italy, the most feared team in Euro 2020

Italy beat Austria 2-1 in the last-16 clash. They needed extra time goals from substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina to get the better of Franco Foda’s team. Italy started their campaign with a dominant 3-0 win against Turkey before thrashing Switzerland. The Azzurri defeated Wales 1-0 in the final group match. Meanwhile, Sasa Kalajdzic’s header ended their run of not conceding a goal in 11 consecutive matches in the previous match. However, the Azzurri have now set a new national record of 31 matches unbeaten. Their previous loss was against Portugal in September 2018. Roberto Mancini’s side is like a well-oiled machine with no real weakness displayed so far.

Belgium’s injury concerns

Belgium has two injury concerns. De Bruyne and Eden Hazard had to be substituted in the match against Portugal. Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has confirmed that neither has sustained serious injuries. However, scans showed that Hazard has a slight muscular issue and De Bruyne an ankle sprain. They will not be fully fit for Friday’s clash. Therefore Carrasco and Mertens are likely to come in for the injured ones at least in the starting lineup.

The back line will remain the same with Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen forming the three-man backline. Meanwhile Borussia Dortmund’s Thorgan Hazard and Thomas Meunier will be deployed at left and right-wing-back respectively.

Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans and Borussia Dortmund’s 32-year-old Axel Witsel will have the task of pulling the strings from midfield. While Axel will do the holding midfielder’s role, Tielemans will play in a slightly advanced position and try to attack.

Romelu Lukau will be the main man up front supported by Merten and Carrasco. The Inter Milan striker has scored three goals in the competition. His goal against Finland was his 63rd for the nation. He is now Belgium’s record goal scorer.

Mancini’s selection dilemma

Italy on the other hand, has a different kind of selection problem. Head coach Mancini will decide whether to bring in Manuel Locatelli and Federico Chiesa. Or, he may want to stick with the same team that started against Portugal. Since Giorgio Chiellini is nursing a thigh injury, Francesco Acerbi is likely to continue in the central defence. Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Leonardo Spinazzola will occupy the right and left-back position respectively in the four-man defence.

Jorginho is sure at the defensive midfielder’s position. Mancini will have to choose whether to bring in Locatelli for Marco Verratti or Nicolo Barella in the midfield. Verratti had two impressive games since coming back from a knee injury. He may keep his place in the starting eleven.

Up front, Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne and Domenico Berrardi failed to break the Austian defence. They needed the ex-factor of substitute Chiesa to break the deadlock. Therefore Mancini might be tempted to give the Juventus player a start ahead of Berardi. Also, Chiesa’s inclusion can cause trouble to the ageing defence line of Belgium. The 22-year-old winger has enough pace and skill to take on the best in the world.

Match may be won/lost in the wings

Both teams have a very attacks minded wing-backs therefore the game might be won or lost in the wings. Down the middle of the park its going to be a congested affair and both sides are likely to cancel each other out. Meanwhile both sides have a strong central defence which would by hard to penetrate. Therefore the wingers are likely to decide the outcome of the match.

In their previous 22 meetings, Italy has beaten Belgium 14 times. Belgium has won just four times. But going into Friday’s match, both sides are evenly matched. It may come down to who can hold their nerve at the big stage. Belgium does have more experience when it comes to the knockouts of major tournaments. Five players in the Belgium squad have completed 100 or more international caps. 15 players were part of the team that reached last-8 of Euro 2016. Meanwhile 18 players were part of the squad that finished third in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. But history has shown the team that holds their nerve on the night wins.

Sportslumo Desk

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