Belgium will face Italy in what is undeniably the game of their group on Monday, at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon in front of a packed 59,000 seater crowd.
Belgium, being the hipsters’ favourites, will go into this game with the weight of expectations of the whole nation on them as the so called ‘golden generation’ with an enviable roster of talent pretty much in all the positions. Although, there are questions as to whether this group of skilled individuals can gel together in a way that could transform them to a team that is feared by opposition remains to be seen, they will not get a better chance to silence the doubters and make an early statement by beating one of them most successful footballing countries in the world, Italy.
For Italy, it’s an issue of prestige after a disastrous World Cup in Brazil – they simply have to get out of the group stages, for a start. The Antonio Conte led side boast one of the strongest defences in the tournament led by the veteran 38-year old goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, on paper, but with the lack of experience up front, it has raised questions about the balance of the side or in their case, the lack of it. Chelsea-bound Conte, who favours a back three to a conventional four-man defence has been vocal in the press dismissing the doubts while talking his side’s chances up in the latest presser. He said,
“It’s definitely an advantage to be able to rely on four players from Juventus who have played together for a long time in defence, and of course we are building something solid on this basis. But as I said before, I like to adopt a proactive style of play and for this, balance will be important, both in attacking and defending.”
Belgium starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen, Ciman; Fellaini, Nainggolan; Mertens, De Bruyne, Hazard; Lukaku
Italy starting lineup (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Candreva, Parolo, Motta, Giaccherini, El Shaarawy; Zaza, Immobile
Kevin De Bruyne – Belgium
In a team full of individually excellent footballers especially in the attacking areas, De Bruyne is the crowning jewel and quite simply their most influential player. The Belgian has had a very good season for Man City in his return to England, despite the injury he suffered in the middle of the season, but does look fully fit now, ready to fire the Red Devils (not what you think) to the latter stages of the competition. His knack of picking the passes and finding spaces which very few others can even see on the football pitch will be key against the four-time world champions on Monday.
Leonardo Bonucci – Italy
Bonucci is one third of one of the best defences in the tournament for Italy and the Juventus side that has now won their fourth Serie A title on the bounce. Italy, admittedly, do not have much going their way up top – but at the back, they are as strong as any. And with Conte, who they are familiar with, Bonucci, alongside Barzagli, Chiellini and goalkeeper Buffon, will have to be at their best to deny Belgium from scoring, if they are to have a chance at pulling a remarkable victory at Lyon.
An incredibly boring game with few chances to end in Belgium’s favour.
Belgium 1-0 Italy