It’s weird how Belgium go into every major tournament ranked as world number one these days, without ever actually winning it. But hey, maybe this time…
The Belgians have long boasted one of the strongest squads in the world, but it’s beginning to age now and there is a feeling Euro 2020 may be one of their last tournaments with a genuine chance of lifting silverware. So they’ll be out to get it this time, but face a tricky start against Russia in St Petersburg.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s team performed far above expectations on home soil in 2018, and might be hopeful of a similar odds-defying run this time, given two of their group games are set to be played in Russia.
So, who’s gonna win this one? And what else do you need to know?
Have a gander below.
When is kick off? Saturday 12 June, 20:00 (GMT)
Where is the match being played? Gazprom Arena, St Petersburg
What TV Channel is it on? ITV
Who is the referee? Antonio Mateu Lahoz
Who is on VAR duty? Alejandro Hernandez
Roberto Martinez will travel with just 24 players for this one. Kevin De Bruyne and Axel Witsel have been left back in their training camp in Belgium as they continue their recoveries from injury, but could feature in later group games against Denmark and Finland.
Youri Tielemans and Leander Dendoncker look like the preferred midfield duo to step in, and will provide the base for the likes of Yannick Carrasco, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku to wreak havoc.
There has been a few knocks in the Russia camp, with Dmitri Barinov and Roman Zobnin suffering minor injuries recently, but both are expected to be fine.
Only 34-year-old defender Fedor Kudryashov has been ruled out at this stage, and he could be replaced by Barinov in the starting lineup. Up front, Artem Dzyuba will be hoping to use his substantial physical presence to bully the Belgian back line.
If you’re looking for excitement and a breakthrough talent to shine through, look no further than Belgium’s Jeremy Doku. He’s unlikely to start, but the 18-year-old is one of the most promising talents at the competition – and is certain to get minutes from Roberto Martinez.
Belgium: Courtois; Alderweireld, Denayer, Vertonghen; Castagne, Tielemans, Dendoncker, Carrasco; Hazard, Lukaku, Mertens
Russia: Shunin; Barinov, Dzhikiya, Semenov; Fernandes, Zobnin, Ozdoev, Kuzyaev; Miranchuk, Dzyuba, Golovin
Despite being world No. 1, Belgium have vulnerabilities waiting to be exposed, especially with neither De Bruyne or Witsel fit to feature in midfield. If Russia can exploit that effectively, overrun them in the middle of the park, and get Dzyuba up against their back three, they could easily come away with something.
But you just feel Belgium’s star power should be enough to get them through. With Lukaku, Carrasco, Dries Mertens and both Hazard brothers available, they can hurt you from so many angles, and they should have enough about them to score a couple of goals.
Prediction: Belgium 3-1 Russia