Euro 2020 quarter-final: Belgium vs. Italy preview, team news and predictions
Lukaku poses a huge threat for the Italians but the Red Devils could be without their star playmakers
Italian defenders know all about Belgium star Romelu Lukaku. The striker plays for Inter Milan in Italy and in the 2020-21 season he scored 24 goals in 36 matches as his club won the Scudetto for the first time in 11 years.
After terrorising Italian defences for the past two seasons the 28-year-old will now be aiming to send Italy packing from the Euros. Ahead of Friday’s quarter-final clash, he has scored three times so far in the tournament.
Italy and Lazio defender Francesco Acerbi was asked by Uefa.com reporter Paolo Menicucci how to limit Lukaku and he said: “We can stop him both as a team and as individual players. He’s a great forward. He’s had an impact in Serie A as well as with Belgium. You have to always be switched on with him, you can’t leave him anything, but I’ve already stopped him in the past. If you leave him any space, he can score.”
Italy are currently on a national record 31-match unbeaten run after defeating Austria 2-1 after extra time in the round of 16.
De Bruyne and Hazard struggling
Italy’s hopes of stopping Lukaku could have a helping hand by fitness concerns over Belgium’s two main playmakers. Kevin De Bruyne and captain Eden Hazard were both substituted in the 1-0 last-16 win over Portugal and are now doubtful for the game in Munich.
“We hope that over the next few days we will recover them pretty quickly,” said Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez earlier this week. “Now, the game is on Friday, so that could be probably too close.”
In an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, former Italy and Inter head coach Antonio Conte said the absence of the Belgian duo could be vital. “Lukaku is a force of nature but much would change without De Bruyne and Hazard,” he said. “Nobody can play as a team better than Italy. Other teams have stars but Italy have the group and a good style of football.”
Martinez: we want to attack
Belgium boss Martinez acknowledges that his team will have to defend well against the impressive Italians, but he has no intentions of telling his players to sit back.
“It is going to be a game where the two teams’ approaches are going to be similar,” said the Spaniard. “But the DNA of the Belgian national football team will never change. We are a team that wants to be in possession, we want to be an attacking threat and we want to show the talent that we have to win games.”
On Italy’s 31-match unbeaten run he added: “You don’t do that unless you are a very, very good team. It’s a challenge we look forward to. We showed against Portugal we can face up to the very best.”
The winners of the tie will play Switzerland or Spain in the semi-final at Wembley on Tuesday 6 July.
Kick-off time and TV details
The quarter-final clash between Belgium and Italy takes place on Friday 2 July at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany. Kick-off is at 8pm (BST) and the match is live on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.
Belgium team news
Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne are the “two big question marks”, says Uefa.com reporter Alyssa Saliou. Martínez “always emphasises continuity” so any changes are “likely to be enforced”.
This week Belgium have also had to make a change to their squad after reserve keeper Simon Mignolet pulled out of Euro 2020 due to injury. Uefa rules allow goalkeepers to be replaced mid-tournament so Blackburn’s Thomas Kaminski has been called up by the Red Devils.
Belgium possible starting XI: Courtois; Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; T. Hazard, Witsel, Tielemans, Meunier; E. Hazard/Mertens, Lukaku, Carrasco/De Bruyne
Italy team news
Italy boss Roberto Mancini will wait until the last moment before making a call on captain Giorgio Chiellini. Struggling with a thigh injury, the veteran Juventus defender should be fit to play after missing two games, says Uefa.com reporter Paolo Menicucci. Mancini would welcome the skipper back ahead of the expected physical duel with Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku.
Italy possible starting XI: Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Spinazzola; Barella, Jorginho, Verratti; Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne
Pundit predictions: who will win?
Jonathan O’Shea, SportsMole: “The pick of the quarter-finals, this clash is an incredibly difficult one to call, as moments of individual quality are likely to be all that separates the teams over the course of 90 minutes - and possibly extra time. Italy may progress to the semi-finals, however, as Belgium are diminished by injuries sustained in the last 16 and the Azzurri have attacking assets that can decide any game with a flash of inspiration. We say: Belgium 1-2 Italy.”
Alex Pattle, The Independent: “A weakened Belgium could struggle but might just about have the experience to topple a threatening but incomplete Italy. Belgium 1-0 Italy.”
Alex Young, London Evening Standard: “A tough one, this. Belgium have two key players missing but still boast a fearsome attack. Italy coasted through the group stage before being pushed all the way by Austria - would that have helped them or hindered them? I’m backing a narrow win for the Azzurri after extra time. Belgium 0-1 Italy.”
Aditya Hosangadi, SportsKeeda: “Belgium have an abundance of talent in their squad but will have to make do without the talismanic Kevin De Bruyne in this game. With Eden Hazard also injured, the Red Devils will face one of their most difficult battles in recent years. Italy faced a fair share of problems against Austria but their superior bench strength saw them through what was a fitting litmus test. The Azzurri hold a slight upper hand at the moment and could book themselves a place in the semifinals this weekend. Prediction: Belgium 2-3 Italy.”
Max Parsons, 90min: “This one is very tough to predict. Both sides come into the tie in staggering form; Belgium are unbeaten in 12, winning ten of those while Italy haven't lost since September 2018 and have been victorious in their previous 12. It should be a tight encounter and could be decided by a moment or two of serious magic - in which case Martinez will be praying to have De Bruyne and Hazard available. Prediction: Belgium 1-0 Italy.”
Sreehari Menon, RepublicWorld.com: “Easily the blockbuster clash of the round, both Belgium and Italy have won all their games until this stage in convincing fashion and are one of the contenders for the title. A potential clash against Spain awaits the winner, and Italy will have their tails up especially with Belgium struggling to cope with injuries. With the participation of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard doubtful, the onus will be on Lukaku to steer the Red Devils’ hopes. Italy hence will be the favourites and should likely clinch progression to the semi-finals.”