Belgium vs Italy – Context:
Two of the best teams at the tournament this year will go head-to-head in a quarter-final which could have massive implications for the final outcome of the tournament.
Both teams have won all four matches played so far, yet both experienced difficulties in their last 16 matches.
Italy were held at a 0-0 scoreline until extra-time against Austria where it was thanks to two substitutes as to the reason why they were able to progress. Federico Chiesa and Pessina struck to send the Matteo Azzurri into the next round.
Meanwhile, Belgium scored a brilliant goal courtesy of Thorgan Hazard. The Borussia Dortmund man’s swerving effort from outside the box too much for Rui Patricio.
However, Portugal were by far the more dominant in the second half and missed some big chances. Had Raphael Guerreiro’s strike which hit the post been inches to the left and Joao Felix more composed, Italy may be facing a very different prospect.
Some criticisms arose that Belgium would need to show more dynamism and attacking flare if they want to go all the way this summer.
Belgium vs Italy – Head-to-head:
Despite their current standings, the historic record between the two nations falls heavily in Italy’s favour. The historic dominance compared to Belgium’s recent rise the cause and an unsurprising one at that.
Of the 22 matches played between them, Italy have been victorious on 14 occasions with Belgium winning just 4 times.
Yet only one of Belgium’s wins comes in the last 20 years. In a 2015 friendly, Belgium won 3-1 in Brussels thanks to goals from Jan Vertonghen, Kevin De Bruyne and Michy Batshuayi.
The most recent meeting between the two came at Euro 2016. Both Italy and Belgium were paired in group E and Antonio Conte’s side came out as 2-0 victors.
Emanuele Giaccherini and Graziano Pelle were the goalscorers. Two players far from the international scene in present day. 6 of the starting 11 of Belgium’s squad are likely to start once again – it would have been 8 were it not for Eden Hazard and De Bruyne’s fitness problems.
For Italy just two are possible starters. Unsurprisingly Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci remaining the solid back pairing.
Belgium vs Italy – Key battles
Ultimately the Italian full-backs are going to have the toughest job of the day.
Italy are yet to deal with a side playing offensive wing-backs and wingers. The Swiss used wing-backs, as did Wales, but neither with the quality and attacking threat of Belgium.
Thomas Meunier and Thorgan Hazard will overlap Dries Mertens and Yannick Carrasco and should Leonardo Spinazzola or Giovanni Di Lorenzo be caught out of position, Belgium will surely overload and create plenty of big chances for Lukaku.
For Italy, their strength will be outnumbering in the midfield. The trio of Nicolo Barella, Jorginho and Marco Verratti will have the extra man against Youri Tielemans and Axel Witsel, with much more mobility too.
Their feeding of the front 3 will be where the game could be won for Italy. The 3-man Belgian defence will need to remain resolute and not allow the passes into Lukaku to break them.
Belgium vs Italy – The subplots
The biggest subplots of the game is the motivation that Roberto Mancini has given Belgium ahead of the game.
Speaking after Italy’s 21 extra-time win against Austria, he said that the match in the last 16 would be ‘tougher’ than whoever they were going to draw in the quarter-final.
“I knew this was going to be tough, probably tougher than the quarter-final,” he said.
“But we played well and deserved it. This test can do us good, we had to show a strong mentality.”
Roberto Martinez will be hoping to prove the former Manchester City man wrong.
Belgium vs Italy – Predicted line-ups
Belgium: Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; T. Hazard, Witsel, Tielemans, Meunier; Mertens, Lukaku, Carrasco
Italy: Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Acerbi, Spinazzola; Barella, Jorginho, Verratti; Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne
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