Belgium will be aiming to kickstart their UEFA Euro 2020 campaign with a victory when they take on Russia in a Group B encounter on Saturday night.
At long last, the UEFA Euro 2020 gets underway this Friday night, meaning jam-packed action filled with blockbuster encounters almost every day for the whole month. On Saturday, one such monumental clash will take place at the Gazprom Arena in St. Petersburg, as tournament favourites Belgium lock horns with Russia in a Group B clash.
Belgium were absolutely unstoppable on their route to the European championships as they cruised through the qualifying campaign without any hiccups. Since the resumption of football post-lockdown in 2020, the Red Devils have played 13 games in total losing just one (W9 D3), a run that has helped them reach the final stages of the UEFA Nations League while putting them in a strong position in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
Despite there being two draws in their last four games against less-fancied teams like Greece and the Czech Republic, the 1-0 win over Croatia in their most recent fixture will have buoyed the team’s confidence.
Russia, meanwhile, enjoyed a straightforward run in the qualifiers as well. Drawn in the same group as Belgium, Stanislav Cherchesov’s men achieved a second-place finish, winning eight of their ten games, while losing both the contests against their Saturday’s opponents. 2020, though, was a forgettable year for the team as they failed to win six of their eight games, resulting in them staying put in League B of the UEFA Nations League.
However, Russia were able to correct their course to some extent this year, winning two of their three World Cup qualifying games (L1) and head into the Euros with a draw and win over Poland and Bulgaria, respectively, in friendly clashes earlier this month.
Ahead of this exciting match-up coming our way from the Gazprom Arena on Saturday, The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at both teams.
Team News & Tactics
Belgium are likely to be without star man Kevin De Bruyne for the game after the Manchester City ace had to undergo surgery for the double fracture he suffered in the Champions League final against Chelsea. Veteran midfielder Axel Witsel is also a doubt for the Red Devils having been picked for the Euro 2020 despite not fully recovering from his injury.
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) June 11, 2021
Roberto Martinez will set his team up in his usual 3-4-2-1 formation with Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois lining up between the sticks. Veteran defenders Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are certain starters in the three-man backline, with the duo likely to operate on either side of Jason Denayer, although Dedryck Boyata is an option for Belgium.
Thomas Meunier has been the preferred option at right wing-back for the Red Devils ahead of Timothy Castagne and that is unlikely to change on Saturday. On the opposite flank, Yannick Carrasco, who played a vital role in Atletico Madrid’s La Liga title triumph, should feature.
Youri Tielemans, a transfer target for Liverpool ahead of the next season, is a certainty in the middle of the park after the season he has had with Leicester City. While Witsel would be his regular partner, the uncertainty surrounding the Borussia Dortmund man’s involvement should pave the way for Leander Dendoncker to start.
With Eden Hazard battling fitness problems as well, his brother, Thorgan, could be in line for a start in one of the two attacking midfield positions, from where he will look to pull the strings in the final third with the help of Dries Mertens. Spearheading the attack for Belgium will be in-form man Romelu Lukaku.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Denayer, Vertonghen; Meunier, Tielemans, Dendoncker, Carrasco; Hazard, Mertens; Lukaku
Russia will have to do without winger Andrei Mostovoy, who has been ruled out of the tournament after testing positive for coronavirus. Veteran defender Fyodor Kudryashov picked up an injury ahead of the last game and is a doubt. Manager Stanislav Cherchesov lined his team up in a 3-4-2-1 formation in the most recent game against Bulgaria and could stick with the same setup, mirroring Belgium on Saturday night in St. Petersburg.
Andrey Mostovoy has had to withdraw from the Russian squad for #EURO2020 due to a positive test for COVID-19.
Stay strong Andrey! 💙 pic.twitter.com/VftvQCVORS
— FC Zenit in English✨ (@fczenit_en) June 11, 2021
Anton Shunin is a shoo-in in goal having taken over as the No. 1 from retired former captain Igor Akinfeev. Andrei Semyenov, Georgi Dzhikiya and Igor Diveyev ought to form the three-man backline for the Russians, while Vyacheslav Karavayev and 37-year-old Yuri Zhirkov slot in as the wing-backs on the right and left sides, respectively. The duo is likely to stay pinned back for most of the game to support the central defenders.
Midfielder Dmitri Barinov also picked up a nose injury in the game against Bulgaria and might not be risked. As a result, Roman Zobnin and Magomed Ozdoyev ought to form the double pivot structure in hope of keeping the Belgian midfield quiet.
The creative onus will largely lie on the shoulders of key man Aleksandr Golovin, who is coming on the back of an impressive season with French Ligue 1 outfit AS Monaco. He will have support from Atalanta’s Aleksei Miranchuk, with the duo in charge of feeding star striker Artem Dzyuba with the goalscoring opportunities.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Shunin; Semyenov, Dzhikiya, Diveyev; Karavayev, Zobnin, Ozdoyev, Zhirkov; Miranchuk, Golovin; Dzyuba
- In seven meetings to date, Belgium have never lost a single game to Russia (W5 D2), winning their last two such fixtures.
- Belgium are currently on a nine-game unbeaten streak heading into the UEFA Euro 2020 (W7 D2).
- Russia, on the other hand, have managed to win just three of their last eleven fixtures (D4 L4).
Player in Focus
Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
⚽ Most international goals of players at #EURO2020:
🥇 Cristiano Ronaldo (🇵🇹) – 103 in 174 caps
🥈 Robert Lewandowski (🇵🇱) – 66 in 119
🥉 𝗥𝗼𝗺𝗲𝗹𝘂 𝗟𝘂𝗸𝗮𝗸𝘂 (🇧🇪) – 𝟲𝟬 𝗶𝗻 𝟵𝟯
👑 Lukaku has the best goal-per-game ratio (0.7) pic.twitter.com/cK4wOBEAIn
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) June 9, 2021
With Kevin De Bruyne unavailable and Eden Hazard a shadow of his former self, there will be added responsibility on Romelu Lukaku heading into the UEFA Euro 2020. The Belgian international, though, is coming into the tournament on the back of one of his best seasons at club level where he led Inter Milan to the Scudetto.
With 60 goals in 93 games, Lukaku is Belgium’s all-time leading goalscorer. And he has found the back of the net on five occasions in his last five appearances for the Red Devils, including the only goal of the game against Croatia in the friendly last week. He will be a major thorn in the side for Russia come Saturday.
Artem Dzyuba (Russia)
14 – Only 🏴 Harry Kane (17) was directly involved in more goals than 🇷🇺 Artem Dzyuba (14, nine goals and
five assists) in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign. Threat.#СборнаяРоссии #EURO2020 pic.twitter.com/1wxHgN9S22
— OptaIvan (@OptaIvan) June 8, 2021
Like Lukaku, Russia, too, have their own big striker who can cause plenty of problems to defences. In Artem Dzyuba, Stanislav Cherchesov possesses one of the most experienced forwards in the Euros who is also closing in on a major milestone in his career. With 29 goals to his name for the national team, the 31-year-old is just one shy of all-time highest scorer Aleksandr Kerzhakov.
The Belgian defence has players who can deal with the physical style of play that Dzyuba brings to the table. But give him one chance and the veteran will pounce, which is why the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen & co. must be at their best to stop the 31-year-old.
Belgium 2-0 Russia
Russia, despite being the “away” team will be playing at home in front of their fans, which will boost their confidence. However, despite their recent run of positive results, the difference in class and quality between the two teams is massive, as was seen during their meetings in the qualifiers. So, even if Belgium end up playing without either Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, they should have enough to pick up all three points.