The reigning champions clash with the favourites on Sunday night as Belgium and Portugal lock horns in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Euro 2020.
One of the biggest games of the UEFA Euro 2020 will come our way this Sunday from Estadio de La Cartuja in Seville, as Portugal go head to head against Belgium in the clash of the champions versus the tournament favourites.
Belgium have been living up to the billing so far in the European Championship, having started off their campaign with a resounding 3-0 win over Russia before beating Denmark 2-1 to book a place in the knockout stages. Their final fixture in Group B saw the Red Devils ease past Finland 2-0 to finish as group winners while extending their unbeaten run to 12 games.
As for Portugal, who were drawn in the Group of Death alongside France and Germany, things began positively with a 3-0 win over Hungary. But a 4-2 loss to Germany in the second game caused some concerns. However, an entertaining 2-2 draw against the world champions in the final Group F encounter was enough for the current holders of the European Championship to make it to the knockout stages.
The last time these Belgium and Portugal met was in June 2018 in a friendly encounter that ended in a goalless stalemate. On Sunday, though, an exciting encounter will be on the cards, and The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams ahead of a mouth-watering contest.
Team News & Tactics
Timothy Castagne’s UEFA Euro 2020 campaign came to an early end after the nasty eye-socket fracture he sustained in the group stages. Apart from the full-back, Belgium have no injury issues, with Axel Witsel also back fit and getting some minutes under his belt. Roberto Martinez will set his team up in the typical 3-4-2-1 formation in front of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Guarding the Real Madrid custodian will the centre-back triumvirate of Toby Alderweireld, Dedryck Boyata and Jan Vertonghen. Their physicality and strength in aerial duels are likely to be key to quelling the threat of Ronaldo on Sunday night.
Thomas Meunier, meanwhile, should start at right wing-back, whereas Thorgan Hazard gets the nod ahead of Yannick Carrasco on the left, from where he will be expected to make constant forays into the final third. With Witsel fit again, he should feature from kick-off in Spain. The seasoned campaigner will be tasked with keeping things tight in the centre with support from Youri Tielemans, who will also look to make driving runs forward.
The creative onus will largely be on the shoulders of star man Kevin De Bruyne, who ought to slot in as one of the two attacking midfielders for Belgium. Partnering him in the final third could be Eden Hazard, who hasn’t been quite at his best but has the ability to turn the game on its head in a moment of magic. Dries Mertens and Carrasco are alternatives if Martinez deems the Real Madrid No. 7 not worthy of a start.
Finally, Romelu Lukaku, who was on the scoresheet in the win against Finland, will spearhead the Belgium attack against Portugal on Sunday.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen; Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, Thorgan Hazard; De Bruyne, Eden Hazard; Lukaku
Portugal have been handed some good news on the injury front as Danilo Pereira and Nelson Semedo, both of whom had to be subbed off in the game against France, are expected to be ready and available for selection on Sunday. Youngster Nuno Mendes, who had been training alone due to an injury problem, has also rejoined the team.
Fernando Santos is unlikely to make any major changes, if any, to the side that gave France a run for their money last time out. In goal, Rui Patricio is the undisputed starter while the fit-again Semedo and Raphael Guerreiro line up as the full-backs. They will need to be wary against the aggressive and forward-thinking wing-backs of the Belgium side, while Pepe and Ruben Dias will once again form the centre-back partnership.
In midfield, Danilo, who seems to have shaken off his knock after the collision in the last game, will anchor the midfield and look to keep a lid on the output of Kevin De Bruyne. He will have support from Joao Moutinho, who did enough in the previous contest to keep Ruben Neves out on the bench yet again.
However, the major question will be with regard to the selection of Manchester United talisman Bruno Fernandes. The playmaker looked a pale shadow of his best self in the opening two games, leading to his axing against France. With Renato Sanches, a target for Liverpool and Arsenal, making the most of his chance against Les Bleus, he should keep hold of his place.
Two of the three spots in the final third are fixed, with Bernardo Silva a certainty on the right while Cristiano Ronaldo is the undisputed starter as the centre-forward. Diogo Jota has blown a bit hot and cold but should hold on to his spot in the lineup for the knockout tie. Andre Silva and Joao Felix are some of the attacking options available at the manager’s disposal from the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Patricio; Semedo, Pepe, Dias, Guerreiro; Moutinho, Pereira, Sanches; Silva, Ronaldo, Jota
- This will be the 19th meeting between Belgium and Portugal. Of the previous 18 encounters, the Red Devils have won five while A Selecao has picked up six victories, with a draw being the most common result (7).
- Belgium are currently on a 12-game unbeaten streak, having last lost a game in October last year. Roberto Martinez’s side have won each of their last four contests.
- Portugal have not in any of their last five matches against Belgium, winning three of those (D2).
Player in Focus
Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
One of the most in-form strikers on the planet, Romelu Lukaku, has hit the ground running with Belgium in the UEFA Euro 2020 after a successful season with Inter Milan. The Belgian forward has already netted three times in three games, showing clinical finishing in front of goal, while his all-round game has also been on point.
Against a Portugal team that has shipped in as many as six goals in their last two games, Lukaku will be licking his lips, and how he fares against Pepe, Ruben Dias & co. will have a huge bearing on the outcome of the game.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
— UEFA EURO 2020 (@EURO2020) June 25, 2021
While Lukaku has continued in his goalscoring ways, Cristiano Ronaldo has not only managed to outscore him but has been going merry on his record-breaking ways. Indeed, the Portugal captain has already scored five goals in his three appearances in the UEFA Euro 2020, with his double against France making him the joint all-time leading goalscorer in international football alongside Iranian legend Ali Daei (109).
Things, however, will not be straightforward against a Belgium defence that has kept four clean sheets in their last six games while conceding just two goals. If Ronaldo is kept quiet, Roberto Martinez & co. will have a great chance of advancing to the quarter-finals.
Belgium 2-1 Portugal
Belgium have been playing some fine football so far in the UEFA Euro 2020, barring the opening half against Denmark. The defence has looked strong, Romelu Lukaku is among the goals, and Kevin De Bruyne has shrugged off his nasty facial injury to make his presence felt as well.
Portugal, on the other hand, have fared decently as well, although things have looked a bit shaky at the back, with Ruben Dias failing to carry his form from his season with Manchester City. With Cristiano Ronaldo in the mood that he is, it is always risky to bet against the Portuguese, but the defence could be their undoing against Lukaku & co. on Sunday. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 victory for Roberto Martinez’s side in Seville.