Neighbours Belgium and Netherlands will lock horns with each other as they look to kick off their UEFA Nations League campaign on a winning note.

King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels will provide the setting as Belgium host Netherlands in their first 2022/23 UEFA Nations League encounter in Group A4 on Friday night.

Belgium made it to the final phase of the 2021/22 Nations League after topping Group A2. But they fell short as they were beaten by France in the semi-finals before Italy got the better of them in the third-place playoffs. Currently No. 2 in the FIFA World Rankings, the Red Devils have qualified for the World Cup.

After back-to-back defeats in October 2021, Roberto Martinez’s side have gotten back on track and are currently on a four-game unbeaten streak (W2 D2), most recently defeating Burkina Faso in a friendly in March.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands have been in fine fettle since their Round of 16 elimination from the UEFA Euro 2020 last year. Louis van Gaal took charge of the team following the European Championships and has led the Oranje on a nine-game unbeaten run (W6 D3), helping them qualify for the FIFA World Cup. They secured an impressive win over Denmark in March which was followed by a 1-1 draw against Germany.

Netherlands had finished second in Group A1 in the previous edition of the Nations League and will be hoping to go a step further. But, they face a daunting challenge in the form of Belgium, while Poland and Wales could also prove tricky opponents.

A winning start would be crucial for both teams as they look to fine-tune their squads and build momentum for the World Cup later this year.

Team News & Tactics

Belgium

Thibaut Courtois, who was Real Madrid’s hero in the Champions League final, has withdrawn from the Belgium squad due to an injury. Jason Denayer is another player who misses out because of an injury. Eden Hazard has made the cut despite having played for less than 30 minutes since February. Uncapped players Wout Faes, Amadou Onana and Lois Openda have been called up.

Belgium are expected to set out in their trademark 3-4-2-1 formation on Friday. In Courtois’ absence, Koen Casteels is expected to get the nod between the sticks for the Red Devils. He will be shielded by a three-man defensive unit of Toby Alderweireld, Dedryck Boyata and Jan Vertonghen.

Thomas Meunier and Yannick Carrasco should line up as the two wing-backs and will be key attacking outlets and will be in charge of providing the width in the final third. Axel Witsel will hold down the fort in the middle of the park, with support coming from Youri Tielemans. The pair will have their task cut out against an energetic Netherlands midfield unit.

Despite having not played much over the past four months, Eden Hazard should get the nod as one of the attacking midfielders. The Real Madrid superstar can cause problems for the visitors with his guile and quality on the ball. Kevin De Bruyne will partner with Hazard and act as the chief creator for Belgium. Romelu Lukaku will be the man spearheading the attack for the hosts.

Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Casteels; Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen; Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, Carrasco; De Bruyne, Hazard; Lukaku

Netherlands

Owen Wijndal, Rick Karsdorp, Luuk de Jong, Marten de Roon, Jordy Clasie and Arnaut Danjuma have been dropped after being picked in the preliminary squad. Georginio Wijnaldum is a notable absentee for the Netherlands. Uncapped defender Jordan Teze has been called up by Louis van Gaal, while Jerdy Schouten also makes the cut after a solid season with Bologna.

Van Gaal deployed a three-man backline in the friendly against Germany earlier this year and could stick with a similar setup against Belgium on Friday night. Mark Flekken could get the nod in goal ahead of Tim Krul and Jasper Cillessen. He will be shielded by a formidable defensive trifecta of Matthijs de Ligt, captain Virgil van Dijk and Nathan Ake, who will look to keep the Belgium attackers at bay on the night.

Denzel Dumfries ought to get the nod as the right wing-back from where he will look to charge forward at every opportunity. Tyrell Malacia could start ahead of the more experienced Daley Blind on the left side and provide attacking impetus while also dealing with the threat of Thomas Meunier.

Teun Koopmeiners and Frenkie de Jong should form the double pivot structure in the centre of the park and look to put pressure on their Belgian counterparts to force turnovers and launch attacks. Steven Berghuis ought to operate in the hole behind the two strikers, who ought to be Memphis Depay and Wout Weghorst, who will be the target man at the top.

Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Flekken; de Ligt, van Dijk, Ake; Dumfries, Koopmeiners, de Jong, Malacia; Berghuis; Weghorst, Depay

Key Stats

  • Belgium and Netherlands have clashed against each other on 127 occasions in the past. The Dutch have the upper hand in head-to-head record, having won 55 games, with the Red Devils triumphing 41 times.
  • Netherlands are without a win in their last eight meetings with Belgium (D6 L2). They last beat the Red Devils way back in September 1997.
  • Since Louis van Gaal returned as manager, the Netherlands are on a nine-game unbeaten run, winning six of those games (D3).
  • Belgium are on a four-game unbeaten run (W2 D2) after back-to-back defeats in the UEFA Nations League last October.
  • If he scores on Friday, Memphis Depay (39) will go level with Patrick Kluivert (40) as the third-highest all-time goalscorer for the Netherlands.

Player to Watch

Romelu Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku is coming on the back of a disappointing campaign with Chelsea and finds himself in the midst of constant transfer speculations. A return to Inter Milan is being mooted for the striker, while there have been rumours of interest from the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona as well.

Despite his problems and poor form at the club level, Belgium’s all-time leading goalscorer always turns up for his nation. And Roberto Martinez will be expecting no less on Friday as a fit and firing Lukaku will be key for the Belgians to make a winning start in their Nations League campaign.

Prediction

Belgium 1-1 Netherlands

Both Belgium and Netherlands have quality players across the board and come into the game on the back of positive results. Roberto Martinez’s side have not lost any of their previous four games, while the Dutch are yet to be beaten since Louis van Gaal took over last year. All things considered, both teams could cancel each other out in Brussels, which is why The Hard Tackle predicts a scored draw on Friday.

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