LIVE: Belgium vs Portugal | EURO 2020 | Knockout Stage
15:00 ET Canada-USA | 21:00 Cairo Local Time
Venue: Estadio de La Cartuja
The group stages are over and we’re now into the knockout phase. There’s some really cracking encounters to come from Saturday to Tuesday, and along with the one between England and Germany on Tuesday, Belgium taking on Portugal at the Estadio la Cartuja in Sevilla should be at the top in terms of balance and quality.
Having thrashed Russia in the opening round by 3-0 and then beaten Denmark by 2-1, they made sure they got the maximum number of points against Finland, courtesy of an own-goal by Lukas Hradecky and a strike from Romelu Lukaku. The fact that Belgium top the FIFA rankings at the moment obviously speaks a lot about their quality, and it seems that quality is finally matched by form.
Many see this as the one of the last opportunities, if not the last, for an international trophy for this brilliant generation; Eden Hazard is 30 and his career has lately taken a turn for the worse through injuries, Kevin de Bruyne is 29, Jan Vertonghen and Dries Mertens 34, Thomas Vermaelen 35, Axel Witsel and Toby Alderweireld are both 32, Thomas Meunier turns 30 in September. There are younger, good players in the squad as well, of course, but for some of these names this is likely the last chance.
Boss Roberto Martinez obviously has a lot of options at his disposal, but he’ll likely go with Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard upfront. It will be interesting to see, however, what role he puts De Bruyne in. The Manchester City man could be put on the right flank to complete the attacking trio, or that position could be given to Yannick Carrasco, or Mertens, with De Bruyne pulling the strings from a central midfield role, alongside Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans.
Alderweireld and Vertonghen, who played together at Tottenham Hotspur for so long, are set to start in the back line, probably accompanied by Dedryck Boyata.
The group stage might have been a smooth ride for Belgium, but it certainly wasn’t for the defending champions. Portugal faced a very resilient Hungary, 2014 World Cup winners Germany, and the reigning world champions France get through. It took them a very long time to break Hungary, though they eventually won by 3-0.
Germany exposed them severely and inflicted them with a 2-4 defeat, and in the end they barely scraped through with a 2-2 draw against France, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice from the spot to balance out the two goals from his good friend Karim Benzema.
Portugal, of course, don’t exactly have the same kind of pressure on their backs as Belgium, having won the European crown in 2016, but a player like Ronaldo won’t feel satisfied with what happened five years ago. His motivation, an incredible desire to win, is likely to spill over onto most of his teammates, and they will give Belgium a good game.
There’s no question about Ronaldo starting, of course, and the standard pair of wide attackers in Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva and Liverpool’s Diogo Jota should be on his flanks again. At the back, Pepe and Ruben Dias should be the heart of the line with Nelson Semedo on the right and Raphael Guerreiro on the left.
Coach Fernando Santos will, however, have to give more thought to the middle of the park. Manchester United playmaker Bruno Fernandes is undoubtedly a fantastic player, but there’s no hiding the fact that his performances in this tournament haven’t been at his usual level so far. Therefore, Santos could decide to go with the same trio that started against France; Danilo, Renato Sanches and Joao Moutinho. William Carvalho and Ruben Neves are good options as well.
FT: Belgium 1-0 Portugal | EURO 2020 | Knockout Stage