No football fan would want to miss Belgium vs Italy in Euro 2020. It is the pick of the quarterfinal fixtures after the giant-killing act of Switzerland precluded the possibility of France vs Spain. The meeting between Belgium and Italy will be a chess game on grass. If you enjoy watching the sport the world has long been in love with, do make sure that you don’t miss out on the potential classic.
I had never been a fan of Italy and their defensive masterclass. But the transformation happened at Euro 2020. I cannot praise Italy enough now. What a lovely bunch of players Roberto Mancini has assembled! The team is full of players who put a premium on collective work. It is difficult to loathe this Italian side, which is high on synergy and low on cynicism.
Football is, admittedly, a team sport but it needs a moment of brilliance from a player to change the course of a match. An Italian did exactly that against Austria in the round of 16. Substitute Federico Chiesa controlled a difficult cross with his head, shifted the ball from his right foot to the left before blasting a goal from an acute angle. All in one seamless motion. Chiesa must start against Belgium.
Mancini has a selection conundrum in midfield. Choosing between Marco Verratti and Manuel Locatelli is no mean task. Locatelli doesn’t have Verratti’s guile but the latter doesn’t have the former’s goals. And, the Azzurri forward line must show more purpose. The lack of cutting edge was obvious in the Austria match before super subs turned things around with well-taken goals.
Belgium, on the other hand, have a few superstars. There isn’t a more perceptive midfielder in the world than Kevin De Bruyne. A fully fit Eden Hazard is a sight to behold while Romelu Lukaku can count himself among the best forwards in the world. Belgium are fretting on the fitness of KDB and Hazard. If the duo aren’t fit, it will be advantage Italy.
Time is running out for the golden generation of Belgium to deliver a trophy. They almost pulled it off in the 2018 World Cup before falling to the eventual champions France in the semi-final despite being the better team. Has their time come now?
Belgium: Romelu Lukaku. Despite a fabulous season for Inter that culminated in the league title, Lukaku has his critics. The forward must rise to the occasion and prove that he can deliver in a crucial knockout match.
Italy: Federico Chiesa. He clearly doesn’t want to warm the bench. The Juventus forward has the game and the drive to start.
Formation: Belgium: 3-4-3. Italy: 4-3-3.
(The writer has covered the Fifa World Cup from South Africa, Brazil and Russia)