It would be a blockbuster clash of two top teams at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais stadium where Belgium and Italy start their Euro 2016 campaign. This Group E encounter would be played on Monday, June 13.
For quite some time, this squad of Belgium is regarded as one of the best to come out of the nation. The ‘Golden generation’ of Belgium is currently ranked number two in the FIFA World rankings but were stationed at the top for a long period. More than the ranks, it is the presence of Belgians at every top European club that makes this team so exciting.
Every player of Marc Wilmots’ squad is a regular at top European clubs making them one of the hot favorites for Euro 2016. Even in the absence of influential captain Vincent Kompany, their defense has a look of solidarity while attack is led by the creative playmakers Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. With a great bench strength to fall back on, Wilmots should have no problems in performing the ‘Italian job’.
The likes of Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Axel Witsel give strength to the attacks for Belgium. And while Marouane Fellaini may not inspire many at Manchester United, more often than not he answers the call for Wilmots from the substitutes’ bench.
Italy coached by the incoming Chelsea manager Antonio Conte is one of the oldest in the tournament. Led by the omnipresent Gianluigi Buffon, this squad had to cope up with a lot of criticism – mainly around the absence of genuine goal-scoring forwards.
As you rightly expect of an Italian team, this side too revels on being a hard-to-break defensive unit. The all-Juventus back line would enjoy familiarity and should enjoy making it difficult for the opposition. But it is further down the park where the concerns for Conte begin and end. Graziano Pelle may not strike fear amongst many defensive line-ups while the backup options aren’t great either. Their struggles to score are well documented and is a grave matter of concern.
Midfield isn’t as much a worry with the likes of Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi manning the centre of the park. The selection of Thiago Motta though, has led to widespread criticism – particularly considering his lack of pace to dictate terms.
Seven wins from nine previous matches speak volumes of Belgium’s capabilities with only a defeat to Portugal coming as a sore point. However they struggled at the back in recent friendlies and had to rely on their attacking talent to bail them through. It wouldn’t be a surprise if their attackers lead them out of woods once again against Italy.
Italy have struggled to score in recent times – no wonder considering the lack of attacking talent in their squad. They have split their record in the last six matches – two wins, two losses and two draws – which doesn’t make great reading.
Key players and team news
The injury in training to Hazard is a worry for Wilmots although he has so much talent at his disposal to cover up for the eventuality of his absence. The key for Belgium would be the form of De Bruyne whose runs should dictate the influence of Lukaku up front. With Yannick Carrasco, the super sub for Atletico Madrid through the season in La Liga, waiting in the wings Wilmots has all bases covered.
So much has been made out about the absence of Andrea Pirlo and the presence of Motta in the Italian squad. But the experienced former Barcelona midfielder could choose to answer the critics on the pitch. Simone Zaza and Ciro Immobile would be pushing for a starting berth but Pelle could get the first nod up front.
The pressure on Belgium comes from the expectations of fulfilling the potential of this talented squad. Often touted as the future leaders in world football, this is the stage for Belgium to live up to the hype or choose to stay as eternal bridesmaid.
Scoring just 15 goals in their last 11 matches including some against minnows, puts Italian attacking prowess in poor light. They may struggle to unlock the tight defenses of Belgium considering the lack of options for Conte.
Belgium has the quality to win this game and don’t be surprised if it’s a clean sheet for the Red Devils.
Belgium to win the match at odds of 2.6 with Betfred.