Two of the pre-tournament favourites square off against each other as Belgium and Italy lock horns in the UEFA Euro 2020 quarter-final on Friday night.
Allianz Arena will provide the setting as one of the biggest clashes of the ongoing UEFA Euro 2020 comes our way this Friday when Belgium go head-to-head against Italy in the second quarter-final of the competition.
Belgium, the No. 1 ranked team in the world, have been playing just like it, looking unstoppable so far at the European Championship. Barring a slow first-half in the Group B game against Denmark, Roberto Martinez’s Red Devils have been the team to beat, winning each of their group fixtures before toppling the defending champions, Portugal, in the Round of 16 contest, to set up what will be their sternest test of the tournament so far.
Italy, like Belgium, have been on the money for large parts of the competition. Three comfortable victories in Group A over Turkey, Switzerland and Wales meant they cruised through to the Round of 16 easily but were made to work hard by a resilient Austrian side as Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri picked up a hard-fought 2-1 win after extra time to set a date with the best-ranked team in Munich this week.
The last time Italy and Belgium locked horns with each other was five years ago in the UEFA Euro 2016, where the Azzurri triumphed 2-0 in a group game. Ahead of this latest blockbuster encounter set to go down at the Allianz Arena, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.
Team News & Tactics
The big news coming out from the Belgium camp ahead of this gigantic clash is that key stars Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard did not participate in the final training session on Thursday after picking up injuries against Portugal. Their potential absence, in particular the former, will be a huge blow for Roberto Martinez’s plans.
Belgium will continue to set up with a three-man defensive unit that will shield Real Madrid superstar Thibaut Courtois between the sticks. Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are permanent fixtures in the backline, with Thomas Vermaelen likely to slot between the two after his highly impressive performance against Portugal.
Thomas Meunier continues at right wing-back following Timothy Castagne’s tournament-ending injury during the group stages while Thorgan Hazard, who scored the only goal of the game in the Round of 16 stage, keeps his place on the left, from where he will be on the prowl to push forward and make the most of any vacant spaces behind the Italy full-back.
Axel Witsel, who has shaken off his injury problems, should start yet again in the centre of the park, from where he will look to negate the influence of Marco Verratti. He will have support from Leicester City star Youri Tielemans, who will also have the onus of providing creative support when Belgium are in possession.
With both De Bruyne and Hazard likely to miss out, there will be a double change in the final third of the pitch as Dries Mertens and Yannick Carrasco replace the duo. There is no looking past star man Romelu Lukaku for the centre-forward slot for the Red Devils.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, Hazard; Mertens, Carrasco; Lukaku
As for Italy, Roberto Mancini is expected to have captain Giorgio Chiellini back available after not risking him in the last game against Austria. Alessandro Florenzi, however, remains a doubt for the contest against Belgium at the Allianz Arena.
The Azzurri will line up in their preferred 4-3-3 formation in front of the first-choice goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, with the returning Chiellini set to partner Juventus teammate Leonardo Bonucci at the heart of the defence. How they fare against the in-form Romelu Lukaku will go a long way in deciding the outcome of the game.
As for the full-back positions, there is no looking past the duo of Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Leonardo Spinazzola, with the latter in particular impressing a great deal, so much so that the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid are queuing up to sign him this summer.
Moving into the middle of the park, Jorginho, who has been excellent so far for Italy in the Euros, is a certainty at the base of the three-man unit. Marco Verratti is another player who is guaranteed to feature from the get-go, with his vision and range of distribution set to come in handy. The third slot represents a headache for Mancini, with both Manuel Locatelli and Matteo Pessina pushing for starts, but Nicolo Barella could be retained again.
Domenico Berardi is expected to edge out Federico Chiesa, who was on target against Austria, for the starting berth on the right flank, while Lorenzo Insigne is a certainty on the left, from where he will constantly look to cut in and take aim at goal. Finally, Ciro Immobile should spearhead the attack for Italy ahead of Andrea Belotti.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Spinazzola; Barella, Jorginho, Verratti; Berardi, Immobile, Insigne
- Belgium and Italy have faced each other 22 times in the past, with the former picking up just four wins while the latter have come out on top in 14 encounters (D4). There have been no draws in their latest five meetings, however.
- This will be the fifth meeting between Belgium and Italy at a major competition and the first in a knockout round. All the previous four came in group stages at the 1954 World Cup and the European Championships in 1980, 2000 and 2016. The Azzurri have won three of these four encounters (D1).
- After the 2-1 extra-time win against Austria, Italy extended their unbeaten run to 31 games – setting a new national record for the longest undefeated streak beating the one set between October 1935 and July 1939 by Vittorio Pozzo’s Italy side.
- Belgium, meanwhile, haven’t lost any of their last 13 games since a 2-1 defeat to England in the UEFA Nations League in October last year (W11 D2).
- Italy have reached the quarter-finals of the European Championships for the fourth consecutive time. Each of their previous three last-eight matches in the competition have been decided on penalties, with the Azzurri being eliminated at the hands of Spain via shootouts in 2016.
Player in Focus
Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
The Inter Milan marksman has been spearheading Belgium’s challenge for the European Championships from the front with some brilliant performances so far. Heading into the game on Friday night, the onus will now be more than ever on Lukaku to step up and deliver yet again, given that both his partners-in-arms, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, are likely to miss out.
Things will not be easy against an organised, disciplined Italian defence that had not conceded in eleven games in a row until the Round of 16 clash against Austria. Furthermore, Lukaku has just one goal in six games against Juventus, whose centre-backs will be facing him in Munich. A big game for the 28-year-old, thus, awaits.
Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)
The linchpin of the Italian defence that, as iterated earlier, had kept a total of 11 clean sheets in a row before conceding against Austria five days ago, Bonucci will once again have a key role to play on Friday. Set to be reunited with his club teammate and captain Giorgio Chiellini, the veteran defender will be tasked with taking Lukaku out of the equation.
If Italy manage to that, they could well be on their way to the semi-finals. So, how Bonucci deals with Lukaku and his brute strength and turn of pace is worth keeping an eye out when these two heavyweights clash at the Allianz Arena.
Belgium 1-2 Italy
Belgium, under Roberto Martinez, have become the highest-ranked team in the world for a reason, and they have shown that mettle and quality so far in the UEFA Euro 2020. However, the potential absence of both Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, two world-class game-changers, takes a lot of sting out of the side even though the likes of Dries Mertens and Yannick Carrasco are capable of being a handful to the opponents.
Italy, meanwhile, have continued to make huge stride after huge stride under the tutelage of Roberto Mancini. Solid defensively, clinical going forward, the Azzurri have constantly displayed why they are among the favourites to take home the trophy. And, having been given a mighty scare by Austria last time out, they will be more alert and focused.
So, we can expect a tight encounter at the Allianz Arena on Friday, with both teams like to err on the side of caution early on, making that first goal ever so crucial. However, the potential absence of Hazard and De Bruyne tips the scale in favour of Italy, which is why The Hard Tackle predicts a 1-2 win for the Azzurri to take them through to the semi-finals.