Belgium will be aiming to get one step closer to June’s UEFA Nations League finals when they host Iceland at Stade Roi Baudouin on Thursday.
The penultimate matchday of the UEFA Nations League will begin on Thursday, as the tables across the four divisions start to settle down. At the King Baudouin Stadium, Belgium will be looking to continue their perfect record in the competition, as they lock horns with Iceland in a League A2 tie.
Belgium have been in solid form since the end of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, having won three of the four matches they have played in the last two international breaks. Roberto Martinez’s men find themselves in a great position to make the finals of the competition as well, having won each of their two encounters in the UEFA Nations League.
Iceland, on the other hand, have been in a rut for quite some time now. The Nordic outfit had finished bottom of their group at Russia 2018 and have failed to win any of the four games at the start of Erik Hamren’s reign of the national side. Three of these winless results have been in the UEFA Nations League, which have already confirmed their relegation from League A.
The reverse fixture, played on Matchday 2 at Laugardalsvollur, ended in a comfortable 3-0 win for Belgium, courtesy goals from Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the UEFA Nations League encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Roberto Martinez has picked the majority of his core group of players for the latest round of international fixtures. The only regulars who are missing are Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini due to fitness issues.
The only area though, where Martinez will be forced to make a change is the back-three, owing to the absence of Vermaelen and Vertonghen. Dedryck Boyata and Jason Denayer are thus, in contention to take up the vacant slot, with the latter likely to get the nod against Iceland.
Joining Denayer in the back-three, should be veteran defenders Toby Alderweireld and Vincent Kompany, with Thibaut Courtois being deployed between the sticks. Up ahead in midfield, Axel Witsel and Youri Tielemans are likely to be the preferred pairing, with the former in particular being in blistering form this season with Borussia Dortmund.
The regular wing-back duo of Thomas Meunier and Yannick Carrasco should continue as well, with the two players looking to create overloads in the final third. Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, who have both regained fitness after their recent injury troubles, are certain starters, with Dries Mertens completing the lineup.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Kompany, Denayer; Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, Carrasco; Mertens, Hazard; Lukaku
If it wasn’t already a huge struggle for Erik Hamren to get his first win as the Iceland boss, the fact that he will be without the services of a few key players against Belgium makes it even tougher. While Ragnar Sigurdsson is suspended, two other key players are absent due to injury.
Gylfi Sigurdsson and Johann Berg Gudmundsson are unavailable for Thursday’s UEFA Nations League tie, with the former pulling out of the Iceland squad altogether. But, Aron Gunnarsson is back in Hamren’s squad and should lead the side against Belgium.
Taking Sigurdsson and Gudmundsson’s places though, should be Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Rurik Gislason. Meanwhile, Arnor Ingvi Traustason and Birkir Bjarnason should join Gunnarsson in midfield. At the back, Karl Arnason should replace Ragnar Sigurdsson, with Sverrir Ingi Ingason being his partner at the heart of the defence.
The key man for Iceland though, will be Alfred Finnbogason, who has been a man in form in Bundesliga for FC Augsburg. The 29-year-old will hope to show that form in international football as well, when the visitors take on Belgium.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Halldorsson; Saevarsson, Ingason, Arnason, Magnusson; Gislason, Bjarnason, Gunnarsson, Traustason; Finnbogason, Sigthorsson
- Belgium have a perfect record against Iceland, having won each of the ten times the two sides have faced off against each other.
- Belgium’s overall form is quite promising as well, with the Red Devils losing just one of their last 30 matches.
- Iceland, on the other hand, have been poor for quite some time, having failed to win any of their last 11 fixtures.
- Erik Hamren is winless as Iceland boss, having lost three of the four matches he has overseen since taking over from Heimir Hallgrimsson.
- Belgium are averaging an impressive 2.75 expected goals for in the UEFA Nations League, while Iceland have conceded an average of 2.63 expected goals in the competition.
Player to Watch
2018-19 has been a season to forget so far for Lukaku, at least at club level, with the striker failing to make any sort of impact for Manchester United. However, that does not seem to have impacted his form in international football, with the star striker scoring five goals in his last four games for Belgium.
Having returned from a short injury layoff, Lukaku will now hope to rediscover his best form and take Belgium one step closer to a place in the UEFA Nations League finals.
Belgium 3-1 Iceland
Thursday’s UEFA Nations League tie pits two teams that are in the opposite spectrum as far as form is concerned. While Belgium are going from strength to strength under Roberto Martinez, Iceland seem to have hit a brick wall and just haven’t progressed under Erik Hamren’s short reign.
At home, Belgium are especially hard to beat, and considering Iceland’s recent form, it might just become a long day at work for the visitors. But, Alfred Finnbogason’s blistering form might give them a consolation goal. The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-0 win for the Red Devils in the UEFA Nations League tie.