Belgium and Russia will be looking to return to winning ways when they lock horns at Stade Roi Baudouin in their opening UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier.
Club football may have taken a fortnight-long break, but there is no rest for football fans across the globe as they get their first taste of international football in 2019. In Europe, the focus during these two weeks will be the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers, with one of the eye catching fixtures pitting Belgium against Russia at Stade Roi Baudouin on Thursday.
2018 was a year to remember as their “golden generation” delivered some returns on their promise by finishing third at the FIFA World Cup, although the year ended in disappointment. Their final tie of the year saw the Red Devils being handed a 5-2 defeat by Switzerland, which meant they missed the chance to make it to the UEFA Nations League finals.
Russia too, had a year to remember, as they reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup against all odds, beating Spain along the way. But, back-to-back defeats to Germany and Sweden have sapped all their momentum, and Stanislav Cherchesov will now be eager to prove that his team’s exploits in Russia 2018 were not a one-off.
The last fixture between Belgium and Russia was a pulsating encounter that ended in a 3-3 draw, with the Sbornaya coming back from two goals down to ensure the stalemate. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Roberto Martinez has seen his usual squad ravaged by injuries and other issues ahead of the latest international break. While Marouane Fellaini has called time on his career with the Belgium National Side, a number of other regulars have missed out due to fitness concerns.
These players include Vincent Kompany, Thomas Meunier, Mousa Dembele, Axel Witsel and Kevin de Bruyne. In addition to the aforementioned quartet, Adnan Januzaj and Romelu Lukaku are also set to be ruled out, having initially been picked by Martinez for the upcoming two games.
In Kompany’s absence, Dedryck Boyata is likely to deputize in the back-three, with Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen being his partners. The three-man defensive line should continue providing cover to Thibaut Courtois, who will hope for some good times with Belgium amid a season to forget with Real Madrid.
The midfield ought to see a much changed look, thanks to the absence of Witsel and Meunier. While Nacer Chadli should move to the right flank to cover for Meunier’s absence, the in-form Leander Dendoncker should fill Witsel’s void, with Youri Tielemans being the creative supremo in midfield in the absence of de Bruyne.
The left wing-back is likely to be Thorgan Hazard, who will be looking to combine with brother Eden on the left flank. The rest of the front trio should be completed by Michy Batshuayi and Dries Mertens, with the former having a great chance to cement his place in the side.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Courtois; Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen; Chadli, Tielemans, Dendoncker, Thorgan Hazard; Mertens, Batshuayi, Eden Hazard
Stanislav Cherchesov has had to rebuild his squad quite heavily in the aftermath of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with several key players retiring. Additionally, the Russia boss also seems to be phasing out a number of players aged over 30, with the latest being Roman Neustadter.
With Roman Zobnin also missing out in the latest squad, a largely new look Russian side should take the field, compared to the one that turned up at the World Cup. The changes have begun right from goal, with Igor Akinfeev retiring after the World Cup; Andrey Lunyov has replaced him between the sticks.
Mario Fernandes is one of the old regulars still continuing in the side. The 28-year-old should be the right-back, with Fyodor Kudryashov lining up on the opposite flank. At the heart of the defence, Georgi Dzhikiya will likely be partnered by Andrey Semenov, who will be Neustadter’s replacement.
In midfield, Zobnin ought to be replaced by Magomed Ozdoyev, while Yury Gazinsky is now one of the pillars of the Russia National Side. Aleksandr Golovin is now fully fit and should return to his spot in the hole, from where he will hope to pull the strings for the visitors.
Aleksei Ionov has made the right wing spot his own in recent fixtures and should continue in the side. On the opposite wing, however, Denis Cheryshev should line up, with Artem Dzyuba leading the line for Russia, although Fyodor Chalov will hope to make his international debut after being handed his first call-up by Cherchesov.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Lunyov; Fernandes, Semenov, Dzhikiya, Kudryashov; Gazinsky, Ozdoyev; Ionov, Golovin, Cheryshev; Dzyuba
- Belgium and Russia have previously met five times, with the visitors yet to be on the right end of a result (D2 L3).
- Belgium have become masters of the qualifiers, having been defeated in just one of their last 30 qualifying fixtures (W24 D5).
- Russia have lost each of their last two matches, and have failed to find the back of the net in three of their last four encounters.
- Belgium won 8 of their last 10 competitive home games by a 2 goal margin or greater.
Player to Watch
With Romelu Lukaku ruled out for the two games that Belgium will play in the latest international break, the onus will be on Michy Batshuayi to provide the goals. The 25-year-old has not had the best of times since making his way to Chelsea, having also failed on loan to Valencia earlier this season.
But, the temporary move to Crystal Palace seems to have reinvigorated Batshuayi, who has scored four goals in his last six games. So, this appears to be the perfect opportunity for the young striker to make an impression on Roberto Martinez and persuade him to use more regularly in competitive fixtures going forward.
Belgium 3-0 Russia
Russia might have been one of the many surprise packages at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but results since then have restored normalcy. Belgium, on the other hand, have continued to look strong, bar the shock defeat to Switzerland in their last game of 2018.
Injuries may have sidelined a number of regulars, but Roberto Martinez still has form players like Eden Hazard, Michy Batshuayi and Thorgan Hazard at his disposal. With Russia being goal shy lately, there can only be one result on Thursday. The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-0 win for the Red Devils to kick off their UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers campaign on a strong note.