Belgium - Italy Preview: Two heavyweights go head-to-head in Group E opener

Marc Wilmots' Belgium side take on Antonio Conte's Italy in the Group B opener in Lyon, and it could be a classic.

Belgium - Italy Preview: Two heavyweights go head-to-head in Group E opener
The game in Lyon promises to be an entertaining one (Photo: Vavel.com)

After months of anticipation, the so called group of death gets underway as two of Europe’s biggest sides, Belgium and Italy, take on one another at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon.

The two teams, who are expected to progress to the last 16 stage, have high calibre players aplenty that will, no doubt, put on a show with both sides looking to qualify from their group as winners.

The Red Devils lost only once in qualifying, against Wales, scoring 24 goals along the way, and Marc Wilmots’ side have a star-studded squad that could go all the way.

The Blues, on the other hand, went unbeaten throughout qualifying, winning seven of their 10 games, and look a compact side going into the opening game of the European Championships in France.

Romelu Lukaku scored in Belgium's final two warm-up matches (Photo: Getty Images)
Romelu Lukaku scored in Belgium's final two warm-up matches (Photo: Getty Images)

Positive start is needed for Belgium

Belgium, who are currently ranked second in the FIFA world ranking, has top level players in all positions, and this side should not be underestimated this summer, despite recent results in their warm-up matches.

They managed to avoid embarrassing defeats to Finland and Norway in their final two games, drawing 1-1 and winnings 3-2 respectively.

One notable absentee is Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany, who is sidelined with injury, but if the Red Devils’ star individuals perform as a team, then who knows what might happen over the next few weeks.

Italy were beaten 4-0 in the final at the last European Championships (Photo: Getty Images)
Italy were beaten 4-0 in the final at the last European Championships (Photo: Getty Images)

Italy looking to go one better than Euro 2012 campaign

Last time out, Italy managed to make it all the way to the final, but lost emphatically 4-0 to Spain, but it was their best run at the European Championships since losing in the 2000 final.

This will be their ninth appearance at the finals, and they have won it once back in 1968, but Conte’s side may well win this crucial opening match and progress out of Group E as winners.

They may not have a star-studded side full of individual talent, however, they perform as a team and have lost only once in all games since that defeat to Belgium in November, 4-1 against world champions Germany.

Red Devils came out on top last time

If the match in Lyon is anything like what it was when the two sides met at the back end of last year, then we are likely to be in for a treat.

Belgium came out with a 3-1 win, however, the scoreline didn’t really tell the story of the game, seen as Antonio Candreva put Italy ahead, but missed a great opportunity to double that lead.

Jan Vertonghen equalised, but it was the Blues who continued to look like scoring, but after Eder hit the bar in the second-half, Kevin De Bruyne and Michy Batshuayi popped up late to snatch the victory.

The was Conte set his Italy side up then is how he should set them up this time around, but can Belgium’s individual quality come out on top once more?

Vermaelen is set to miss out for the Group E opener (Photo: Getty Images)
Vermaelen is set to miss out for the Group E opener (Photo: Getty Images)

Team news

Barcelona’s Thomas Vermaelen is a doubt for Belgium in the opener, and with Kompany absent, Jason Denayer may well be the player to partner Jan Vertonghen at the back.

Thibault Courtois is set to start in goal with Jordan Lukaku and Toby Alderweireld at full-back, with Wilmots likely to use the same formation that they did throughout the qualifiers.

Italy have no real injury news, but Southampton’s danger man Graziano Pelle, who was impressive last season with the Saints, could lead the attack with Eder or Simone Zaza along side him.

Thiago Motta may well be used as a holding midfielder in the opener along with Daniele De Rossi to try and counter the threat that Belgium causes going forward.