Belgium vs Tunisia Preview: Red Devils eye a place in the last 16

Belgium vs Tunisia Preview: Red Devils eye a place in the last 16

Victory for Belgium will ensure they progress past the group stages.

Chris Lincoln

After contrasting fortunes in their opening games of the World Cup, Saturday's meeting between Belgium and Tunisia will be pivotal to their hopes of progressing from the group stage.

Belgium defeated Panama 3-0 after an edgy first-half display, meaning a victory over Tunisia will ensure they qualify before taking on England. Yet three points for the African side will blow the group wide open before it reaches a conclusion on Thursday evening.

Lukaku one goal short of history

The aim for Roberto Martinez' side will be to get off to a fast start and ease the nerves against a physical Tunisian outfit. Rumours are rife that Belgium captain Eden Hazard used some choice words to fire up his side as they went into the half-time break at 0-0 against Panama.

The Belgians came out flying, scoring three neatly taken goals, yet slow starts are becoming synonymous with a team that have failed to score in the opening 45 minutes of a World Cup match since 2010.

Despite a relatively lacklustre record against Tunisia, winning one of their three previous meetings, Belgium are expected to have enough firepower to see off their opponents. Dries Mertens scored the only goal of their last fixture four years ago and is in great form alongside Hazard in attacking midfield.

Romelu Lukaku leads the line after a brace against Panama took his recent goal tally to 15 in 10 games and he is now just one short of Jan Ceulemans' national record of six goals in major competitions.

Despite defensive duo Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen are expected to be absent again through injury but Belgium know how to get out of a World Cup group, progressing in six out of the last seven competitions and remaining unbeaten in their last ten group games.

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Tunisia looking for first win in 13

Tunisia were just three minutes away from causing an upset against England but undoubtedly rode their luck throughout the 90 minutes. England missed a series of chances, Tunisia's equalising penalty was controversially awarded and there were questions raised over the physicality of their defenders in the penalty area from set-pieces.

Perhaps the difference in class presented by these two outfits is that Belgium are likely to start with six Premier League stars whilst Tunisia's most recognised player is captain Wahbi Khazri, currently on the books of League One Sunderland.

Defeat will effectively put Tunisia out of the tournament and they will be looking to Khazri and Ferjani Sassi, who impressed against England, to provide some sort of spark for the underdogs. A win for Tunisia would then leave Belgium needing to better the score of Tunisia against Panama when they take on England.

Yet Tunisia have not won in 12 World Cup games, rewinding back 40 years which was also the last time they kept a clean sheet in the competition. 

Expect contrasting styles of play with Belgium averaging the fifth highest number of short passes per game, compared to Tunisia who have played one in six passes long and have recorded fewer crosses than anyone else in the competition.