Today’s Group E Euro 2016 clash between Belgium and Italy is clearly one of the most interesting of all the “opening” games at these finals. This is probably the first clash between two sides who could both be considered to have serious long term tournament ambitions and the winner of this match will gain a huge boost of confidence heading into the rest of the competition.
Belgium, the current No. 2 ranked side in the FIFA rankings, are clearly everyone’s idea of a bright young thing and one that can call on such as Kevin De Bruyne (Man City), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Radja Naingolan (Roma), Romelu Lukaku (Everton) et al, not to mention talented coach Marc Wilmots. Italy, of course, are Italy.
Twice in the last four European Championships, they have ended up in the final of tournaments (2000 and 2012) where they started off without much fanfare. Nor was Italy overwhelmed with media or fan expectations on the “Calciopoli” investigation disturbed eve of their 2006 World Cup win in Germany. You just don’t write off Italy.
While Italy don’t have the genius of Pirlo around, they do have the equally classy Marco Verratti to run the midfiled. The likes of Chiellini, Bonucci, De Rossi, Marchisio and the ever present Buffon will provide the experience and will lead the likes of Insigne, Pelle and Shaaraway along the way.
You could say that this Belgian team has more match winners in their squad and that might make all difference in the end. But while they have the talent, they do not the pedigree that Italy possess in tournaments. In what should be an enthralling contest, it will be a battle between the Belgian flair and the Italian grit. It will be a clash of contrasting styles with Italy trying to counter attack the Belgian defense. It will be a tight one to call.
PREDICTION: Belgium 1 – Italy 1