Belgium will have the chance to book their place at the UEFA Euro 2020 when they host San Marino at the King Baudouin Stadium on Thursday.
Matchday 7 of the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers is underway and this week the first of the qualifiers will be confirmed. Group I leaders Belgium are one such team who can book their place in next summer’s finals, when they welcome the whipping boys of the group, San Marino to Brussels on Thursday.
Belgium, the top ranked team in the world, have cruised through the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers, winning each of their first six fixtures. Three more points and Roberto Martinez’s men will become the first team to qualify for next summer’s finals.
San Marino, by contrast, are the bottom feeders of Group I and the lowest ranked team in the world. La Serenissima have won just one game in their entire history and have barely put up a fight in the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers thus far.
The reverse fixture, played in Serravalle last month, ended in a 4-0 rout, with Michy Batshuayi, Dries Mertens and Nacer Chadli scoring for Belgium. 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 been forced to make quite a few changes to the last squad he picked due to injuries. The big miss for Belgium is Kevin De Bruyne, who is struggling with a groin injury. Maxime Lestienne has, meanwhile, withdrawn from the squad due to a hamstring injury while in action for Standard Liege this past weekend.
Martinez should field his side up in the usual 3-4-3 formation, but is expected to hand a start to a number of fringe players in his squad. Thibaut Courtois, though, is likely to start ahead of Simon Mignolet and Matz Sels.
The back-three should see a bit of rotation, with Dedryck Boyata and Thomas Vermaelen starting alongside Toby Alderweireld. Nacer Chadli and Timothy Castagne ought to be the two wing-backs, with Youri Tielemans and Dennis Praet likely to partner up in the middle of the park.
Tielemans will have the creative onus on him in the absence of De Bruyne, especially with Eden Hazard likely to be rested. The in-form Divock Origi should start on the left side of the Belgium attack, with Michy Batshuayi leading the line for the hosts and Adnan Januzaj lining up on the opposite flank.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Courtois; Alderweireld, Boyata, Vermaelen; Castagne, Praet, Tielemans, Chadli; Januzaj, Batshuayi, Origi
Franco Varella has snubbed Mirco De Angelis, Fabio Vitaioli, Michele Cevoli and Matteo Vitaioli from his latest squad. While Matteo Vitaioli is a major absentee, none of the other three have been regulars for San Marino lately and are unlikely to be missed.
Varella has alternated between the 4-4-2 and the 5-3-2 formations lately but is likely to prefer the latter in order to shore up the defensive side of things. Young goalkeeper Simone Benedettini is starting to establish himself in the side and is likely to take his place in goal against Belgium.
Alessandro D’Addario and Andrea Grandoni ought to be the two full-backs, who will largely be tasked with staying narrow at the back and rarely charging forward. Manuel Battistini, Mirko Palazzi and Davide Simoncini will complete the five-man defence, with Simoncini donning the armband for San Marino.
Experience will be the name of the game in midfield, with Alex Gasperoni, Enrico Golinucci and Mattia Giardi completing the three-man unit. Filippo Berardi and Nicola Nanni will form the strike partnership, with Berardi playing off Nanni.
Probable Lineup (5-3-2): Benedettini; D’Addario, Battistini, Davide Simoncini, Palazzi, Grandoni; Gasperoni, Golinucci, Giardi; Berardi, Nanni
- Belgium have been victorious in each of their 7 previous meetings with San Marino.
- Belgium have not been beaten at home in their last 18 such fixtures, winning 14 and drawing 4 of those games.
- San Marino have not been beaten in just three of the 132 qualifiers they have ever played, with each of those results being a draw (L129).
- San Marino are yet to score a goal in the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers. If they fail to find the back of the net in their remaining four outings, it will only be the second ever Euro qualifying campaign wherein they would not have scored a goal.
- Only one player in the San Marino squad – Mirko Palazzi (1) – has scored an international goal for the national side.
Player to Watch
Courtois has had a tough going at club level lately, with errors starting to creep into his game. While he has impressed during his short Real Madrid stint so far, the pressure has visibly been mounting. The twin outings on national duty, thus, allows Courtois to rebuild confidence and get the spring back in his step. A clean sheet or two would not hurt either.
Belgium 5-0 San Marino
There really is no beating around the bush here. Belgium are the top-ranked team in the world while San Marino are dead last. And so, the only thing that remains up for debate is how many goals the Red Devils will be able to score on the day, with qualification for the 2020 UEFA Euro all but a formality. The Hard Tackle predicts a 5-0 win for Roberto Martinez & co.