Date: Monday, 13th June, 2016
Time: 20.00pm BST
Venue: Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon
The first heavyweight clash of Euro 2016 takes place in Lyon this evening as potential winners Belgium and Italy meet at Olympic Lyonnais’ new stadium in Group E. The odds are quite even in what promises to be a close affair, even though outright tournament odds place Belgium ahead of Italy.
Belgium head into the tournament as the bookmakers’ fifth favourites, although why they were longer odds than England is beyond us. Despite missing captain Vincent Kompany they have a wealth of talent at their disposal – it’s just a matter of manager Marc Wilmots being able to get the best out of them.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is expected to start despite a shaky season with Chelsea. Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet and 37-year-old Jean-Francois Gillet haven’t put any pressure on the youngster.
Defensively, 20-year-old Jason Denayer looks set to replace Vincent Kompany, with Nicolas Lombaerts also absent in France through injury. He’ll partner Thomas Vermaelen (if fit) as Tottenham duo Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld spread out to full-backs at international level.
United’s Marouane Fellaini is competing with Radja Nainggolan and Axel Witsel to start in front of the back four. Should he not start there’s always the opportunity to be brought on as a target man up top, though the Italian defence is pretty solid in the air.
Belgium have an amazing attacking midfield trio on paper in Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens but the Red Devils failed to score in two encounters with Wales in qualifying. The rest of the group was easy although they didn’t convince on the road with 1-0 wins in Cyprus and Israel. They support United target Romelu Lukaku as the front man, with Christian Benteke, Divock Origi and Michy Batshuayi all available from the bench.
Italy came through their qualifying group as winners, four points ahead of Croatia. Chelsea-bound Antonio Conte has a wealth of defensive talent but question marks are certainly raised in the attack.
Southampton’s Graziano Pelle is expected to lead the line alongside Eder, with Simone Zaza, Ciro Immobile, and Lorenzo Insigne the other options. Those five players have a combined 11 goals in 56 caps between them.
Stephan El Shaarawy and Daniele De Rossi as the best goal threats from midfield whilst set pieces may play a big part for the Italian side with Giorgio Chiellini a target.
Italy play a back three with wing backs – those three central defenders and goalkeeper all play for Juventus’ solid defence – Gianluigi Buffon, Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci. It’s certainly Italy’s biggest strength in their team and on paper it is the best defence in the tournament.
United’s Matteo Darmain should start as the left wing back as part of Conte’s 3-5-2 formation. Former-United target Antonio Andreva is expected to start on the opposite flank.
Belgium v Italy Odds
Belgium vs Italy: Team News
Belgium Team News
Thomas Vermaelen is a doubt for Belgium. Should he not be fit to start, Jordan Lukaku could start at left-back with Jan Vertonghen moving into centre-back where he plays at club level.
Italy Team News
Antonio Conte has no fitness concerns heading into their opener.
Possible Starting Lineups
Belgium predicted XI: Thibaut Courtois; Toby Alderweireld, Jason Denayer, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen; Radja Nainggolan, Axel Witsel; Dries Mertens, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard; Romelu Lukaku.
Italy predicted XI: Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Antonio Candreva, Alessandro Florenzi, Daniele De Rossi, Emanuele Giaccherini, Matteo Darmian; Graziano Pellé, Éder
5 – This is only Belgium’s fifth appearance at a European Championship finals with two of those qualifying automatically as hosts.
18 – Daniele De Rossi is the only Italian entering Euro 2016 with more than six goals for his country.
2000 – These two sides met at Euro 2000 in Belgium with Italy coming out on top in a 2-0 win to help eliminate the co-hosts in the group stage. Current Italy and Belgium coaches Antonio Conte Marc Wilmots were on opposite sides in that match.
Prediction: Belgium 1-1 Italy