Belgium vs Portugal – Context:
Belgium might feel a little bit of hard done by finishing top of the group and yet having to face the current European champions but unfortunately for them it’s just simply the way things work.
As the saying goes, you have to play the big sides eventually and Roberto Martinez may welcome an early test after a relatively straightforward group stage.
Wins in all three matches against Russia, Denmark and Finland saw Romelu Lukaku stand out as the key player for the side. Portugal meanwhile overcame a final matchday scare to finish third behind France and Germany but still qualify.
Cristiano Ronaldo is one of few players at the tournament to outscore Lukaku but the Juve forward has had as many penalty strikes as the Inter Milan man has goals in total.
For either side, a victory in this contest will surely propel the nation to the quarters with much needed momentum and belief that they can beat anyone at the competition.
Belgium vs Portugal – Head-to-head:
Despite being the current world number one ranking according to FIFA, Belgium are still yet to beat Portugal since 1989.
Since then, the pair have faced off against one another on 5 separate occasions but never at an international tournament. Overall, Portugal have won 6 times compared to Belgium’s 5. 7 draws between the two could spell the possibility of extra time and penalties, something both coaches will be hoping to avoid.
Although if Portugal’s 2016 triumph is anything to go by, their experience in added time could historically see them edge that metric too.
Belgium reporter Alyssa Saliou has said that whilst Portugal may have the head-to-head advantage, Belgium’s results against other top nations in the recent past will give them confidence.
“The team have not beaten Portugal since 1989, but they have proved themselves capable against big opponents in the past, eliminating Brazil 2-1 at the 2018 FIFA World Cup for example,” said Saliou.
“The return to full fitness of Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne should further boost their belief.
“The most important thing against Portugal will be to play compactly and to deny space to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, though they should not focus solely on the tournament’s top scorer given the Seleção’s extremely talented squad.”
Belgium vs Portugal – Key battles
Should Belgium want to combat Cristiano Ronaldo then they will need to rely on the weakest part of their team to do the work, their defence.
Whilst experienced, the defence lack mobility and Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and one of Jason Denayer or Thomas Vermaelen will need to be fully focused to cope with the Portuguese talisman. Denayer adds more mobility but is not as defensively sound, Martinez will have a judgement call to make.
It is important to remember that Belgium play a similar system to Germany with the 3 at the back. Whilst Ronaldo was able to get in behind to score against Joachim Low’s side, ultimately the wing-back system overloaded the Portuguese defence and left Raphael Guerreiro and Nelson Semedo outnumbered.
What’s worse is the difference in quality. Germany’s front line had many questions but Belgium’s with Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Yannick Carrasco with Thomas Meunier and Thorgan Hazard flanking could cause some major issues.
In the midfield, Portugal’s three of Joao Paulinha, Joao Moutinho and Renato Sanches will outnumber Kevin De Bruyne and Axel Witsel. However, they cannot afford to lose discipline as Belgium will surely punish on the counter if Portugal overcommit.
Belgium vs Portugal – The subplots
The battle of Serie A’s top two forwards in Ronaldo and Lukaku is surely the key aspect which decides the game. When chances inevitably fall to the pair, whoever takes theirs most clinically will be the author of the tie’s script.
Manchester City’s best players will be going up against one another. Kevin De Bruyne, the 2019/20 Premier League player of the season, will be going up against the 2020/21 recipient Ruben Dias. Further City player Bernardo Silva is also likely to play unless Fernando Santos feel another option is more appropriate.
Meanwhile, the battle of the Borussia Dortmund wing-backs will take place with Guerreiro on Portugal’s left and Meunier on Belgium’s right. Meunier has the advantage of playing a wing-back role whereas Guerreiro has more defensive responsibility playing the solid left-back position in the four. This could be defining area of the pitch during the game.
Belgium and Martinez will be judged from this display as their first true test as they look to claim an international major trophy with their golden generation.
Belgium vs Portugal – Predicted line-ups
Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Denayer, Vertonghen, Meunier, De Bruyne, Witsel, T.Hazard, Carrasco, E.Hazard, Lukaku
Portugal: Rui Patricio, Semedo, Pepe, Dias, Guerreiro, Paulinha, Moutinho, Renato Sanches, B.Silva, Jota, Ronaldo
This article was edited by
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