Belgium are anxiously waiting on the fitness of stars Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard for their Euro 2020 quarter-final showdown against Italy on Friday.
Thorgan Hazard fired Belgium into the last eight with the goal that knocked out holders Portugal, but the fitness of his brother Eden and De Bruyne is Belgium’s main concern before facing the Azzurri in Munich.
De Bruyne came off early in the second half against Portugal with an ankle knock, while Belgian captain Hazard injured a hamstring late in the game.
Neither trained Wednesday with Belgium’s medical staff working around the clock to get them fit to face Italy.
Coach Roberto Martinez admits neither player will probably be 100 percent in Munich, “but we will use every day to get them as fit as possible”.
Manchester City midfielder De Bruyne is central to Belgium’s hopes of reaching the semi-finals, where Spain or Switzerland would await next Tuesday.
Martinez is assessing his alternative options in attacking midfield.
Atletico Madrid’s Yannick Carrasco could replace Hazard, while Napoli forward Dries Mertens may step in for De Bruyne.
Martinez expects Italy to “attack from the very first second, they will be very structured”, underlining the need for De Bruyne’s presence to guide Belgium’s counter-attacks.
With four wins and three clean sheets so far at Euro 2020, the Belgians are living up to their billing as the world’s top-ranked team.
However, Italy are on a national record run of 31 games unbeaten after digging deep to seal a 2-1 victory over Austria following extra time in the last 16.
Second-half replacements Federico Chelsea and Matteo Pessina scored to send the Italians through.
Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku, the Serie A player of the season as Inter Milan ended an 11-year title drought, has scored three goals at the tournament.
Italy midfielder Pessina says the Inter star is a handful who “can take on three defenders by himself”.
Meanwhile forward Ciro Immobile has answered critics’ claims he only scores in the blue of Lazio, not the national team, with goals against Switzerland and Turkey in the group stage.
After 25 goals in 41 games last season for Lazio, Immobile has the confidence of Italy coach Roberto Mancini, but had a frustrating night against Austria, hitting the post with half an hour gone.
Belgium and Italy have been the two best teams in the competition so far and it will make for a tasty contest. The Red Devils who reached the semi-finals of the World Cup three years ago will look to match that achievement with a win but Italy who have all experience in big-ticket tournaments will make it very hard for the Belgians.
Who’s saying what?
Roberto Martinez, Belgium head coach
“We are fighting against time. We are going to take until the last minute to make the decision on Hazard and De Bruyne. We’ll see tomorrow if they will be involved or not. Tomorrow, it will be a medical decision in the afternoon and then we’ll make a football decision after that.”
Thorgan Hazard, Belgium forward
“Italy will be the toughest opponent we’ve met so far. They’ve had a good run of wins and it will be a nice challenge for us to end that sequence.”
Jorginho, Italy midfielder
“De Bruyne is a player who makes the difference. We have to stop him because he always finds space. He can be really dangerous.”
Ciro Immobile, Italy striker
“Failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup was a lesson for us that will hopefully help us to go far in this European Championship and write over the ugly memories.”
Belgium vs Italy H2H
Stats and Trivia
• Belgium and Italy have won their last 14 European Championship matches, the victors at the Football Arena Munich will set a new competition record, a mark they both currently share with Germany.
• While Italy have won 14 of the sides’ 22 contests, including group games at Euro 2000 and 2016, Belgium prevailed in the teams’ only previous EURO quarter-final, in 1972 when they ultimately finished third.
• The sides’ most recent meeting came in the Euro 2016 group stage, goals from Emanuele Giaccherini (32) and Graziano Pellè (90+3) giving Antonio Conte’s Italy a 2-0 Matchday 1 win in Lyon against a Belgium side coached by Marc Wilmots. That helped the Azzurri finish top of Group E, level on six points with runners-up Belgium, who also progressed. Ten members of Belgium’s Euro 2020 squad played in that encounter as opposed to just three from Italy’s.
• Belgium were the top scorers in qualifying overall with 40 goals in their ten matches. Fifteen different Belgium players found the net in qualifying. The Red Devils conceded only three goals, the joint-best record along with Turkey. The 9-0 win against San Marino on 10 October 2019 is Belgium’s biggest UEFA European Championship victory.
• This is Italy’s tenth EURO final tournament and their seventh in a row since sitting out the 1992 edition in Sweden. Only twice have they failed to advance through the group stage, in 1996 and 2004; they were quarter-finalists at Euro 2016.
• The 1972 success against Italy is Belgium’s only win in a Euro quarter-final; they lost to the Netherlands in 1976 (0-5 a, 1-2 h) and Wales in 2016 (1-3).
• Italy’s record in knockout ties at the EURO final tournament is W8 L6.
• Opposing managers Martínez and Mancini were in charge of Wigan Athletic and Manchester City respectively in the 2013 FA Cup final, Wigan winning 1-0 to claim their only major trophy; Mancini left City two days later.
With AFP and Uefa inputs