Belgium’s leading scorer at the European Championship is no stranger to Italy’s veteran defenders.
They all play in Serie A.
Romelu Lukaku will likely be the main attacking threat when Belgium takes on Italy in Munich on Friday in the Euro 2020 quarterfinals. The Inter Milan forward has scored three goals in his team’s four victories so far.
And with Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard both doubtful for the game, Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini and teammate Leonardo Bonucci — both defenders at Juventus — will know just who to focus on.
“It’s a quarterfinal. It will be decided on small details,” Belgium midfielder Youri Tielemans said. “I think one phase can turn the game in our favor, or against us. We have to be concentrated from the first minute and finish strongly. It’s going to be very, very tough, very, very physical.”
Belgium, which is trying to win its first major soccer tournament three years after a third-place finish at the World Cup, hasn’t lost in 13 games and is the top-ranked team in the world. The Italians haven’t been beaten in a national team record 31 matches, though they were taken to extra time by Austria in the round of 16.
“It’s a nice challenge to beat them after a run of 31 unbeaten games. I estimate the odds 50-50,” said Belgium midfielder Thorgan Hazard, Eden’s younger brother and the scorer of the only goal in the team’s 1-0 victory over Portugal in the last round. “It’s an advantage that we didn’t have to play extra time.”
Both teams won all three of their group matches, and with France, Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany all eliminated from Euro 2020, the winner in Munich will certainly be among the favorites for the title.
“We must continue to believe in ourselves,” Italy midfielder Jorginho said. “The most serious mistake would be to think that we’ve already done something great.”
Neither De Bruyne nor Eden Hazard’s injury worries are new. De Bruyne fractured his nose and eye socket in a collision with Chelsea defender Antonio Rüdiger while playing for Manchester City in the Champions League final, but the latest problem is a bruised left ankle sustained after a tackle from Portugal midfielder João Palhinha in the round of 16.
“I don’t know if De Bruyne will play in the game, but he’s definitely a player who makes the difference, with a higher-than-average football intelligence,” said Jorginho, a Chelsea midfielder who plays against De Bruyne in the Premier League.
The injury-prone Hazard was also taken off early against Portugal with a hamstring issue. Belgium coach Roberto Martínez said Monday that both Hazard and De Bruyne were “50-50” for Friday’s game.
Belgium has only beaten Italy once before in a competitive game — in the 1972 European Championship quarterfinals.
Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP