After two days away the Euro 2020 quarter-finals are finally here, as Italy and Belgium head to Munich’s Allianz Arena to tussle for a place in the final four.
Both of these sides were made to work hard for their place in the last eight; with Austria taking Italy to extra-time at Wembley last Saturday before Belgium survived an onslaught from reigning champions Portugal in Seville on Sunday.
The toll of that tie is evident on the Belgians this week, with manager Roberto Martinez keeping his cards close to his chest on the fitness of star man Kevin De Bruyne and captain Eden Hazard.
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Neither of them made it the full 90 minutes of that game. De Bruyne lasted less than three minutes after half-time following a brutal looking foul by Joao Palhinha in the first half, while Hazard pulled up three minutes before full-time with a thigh problem.
There’s potential the Red Devils are just being cautious with their key players, but their inclusion could mean the difference between a semi-final berth and an early exit from the competition.
The Italians went the full 120 minutes against a resolute Austria side that were so close to winning it in regular time, but they should be well rested for this clash and have no fresh injury concerns.
Their main concern should be the lack of chances they created, failing to register a shot on target in the second half of that game.
To their credit, they could have been in the lead at half-time – Ciro Immobile inches away from opening the scoring after half an hour – and they burst into life in extra-time, scoring twice in ten minutes to break Austrian hearts.
They looked a little fragile when Die Burschen pushed higher up the pitch and didn’t allow Italy’s midfield time on the ball, and it’s something Roberto Martinez’s side (who largely allowed Portugal to move the ball in midfield) should be wary of, especially if they’re without their key players.
They themselves were made to look extraordinarily ordinary in the first half of their match with Denmark without Kevin De Bruyne though, and Leonardo Spinazzola might fancy himself to affect the game in the same way Joakim Maehle was able to from that left side of the back line.
Italy v Belgium: The Man in the Middle
Taking charge of this one is Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic, who’s been conservative with his cards at the tournament so far.
In his two group stage games he showed just five bookings – including a solitary card in Spain’s 0-0 draw with Sweden. He did show four when he officiated Switzerland’s 3-1 victory over Turkey, but there were 34 fouls in that game so it would have been difficult not to.
In ten ‘major’ games last season he showed an average of 2.9 bookings, didn’t show a single red card and gave just two penalties.
Italy v Belgium: The Bets
It’s a little difficult selecting plays for a game in which two of the three best players on one side may or may not be involved, but we’ll treat it as if they are going to be given the magnitude of the tie and what’s at stake.
Considering it’s been at least 8 months, and a combined 26 games, since either of these sides experienced defeat I’d be shocked to see either of them on the end of a resounding one here.
I expect both sides will look to keep it tight in the first half as they sound each other out (the half-time draw is evs) and, given both of these sides have proven themselves to be difficult to break down, I like the look of Either Team to win in Extra-Time at 5/1 with bet365.
Each side has only conceded once at the tournament, and they’ve done it in slightly different ways. Roberto Martinez’s side have rode their luck at times (allowing a combined 45 shots to Denmark and Portugal), whilst Roberto Mancini’s men have completely stifled their opponents and conceded just 23 shots (in regular time) across their four games.
With Belgium’s propensity to allow their opponents shots, I’m taking Leonardo Spinazzola to have Two or More Shots at 13/10 with Paddypower.
He’s been one of Italy’s best players at the tournament so far, and has certainly found his shooting boots for his country. The Roma defender has taken six shots in his three starts so far, and is up against a Belgium side that affords left-side defenders opportunities.
Joakim Maehle had three shots (two on target) for Denmark, whilst Portugal’s Raphaël Guerreiro managed two shots (0 SoT) himself.
Whilst we’re on Spinazzola, he is absolutely worth considering for UEFA Star of the Match at 10/1 with bet365. His price, unsurprisingly, has shortened massively compared to earlier in the tournament but the marauding full-back has won the award in two of his three games and the price still appeals.
When looking at the ‘Star of the Match’ market, I was surprised to see Marco Verratti out at 16/1 to pick up the award. He’s the same odds as Belgium’s injured reserve goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, and a better price than back-up striker Christian Benteke (14/1) which is wild to me.
In his two starts the PSG midfielder has ran the show in midfield and rarely looks fazed by those in front of him. If KDB is to miss out, he should have a field day against whichever lambs Belgium decide to send to the slaughter.
Along the same lines as Spinazzola shots, my BetBuilder for the match – which can be used for bet365’s inplay offer – is Ciro Immobile 3+ Shots and Italy 12+ Free-Kicks at 11/10 with bet365.
The Lazio hitman has had three or more attempts in each of his Euro 2020 starts (average: 4.33 per game), as well as doing so in nine of his last 10 competitive starts for his country – at an average of 4.2 per game.
Belgium allowed four to Cristiano Ronaldo and seven to Martin Braithwaite, as well as three to João Felix in his 35 minute cameo.
As far as free-kicks are concerned; Belgium gave 41 away in their more challenging games against Denmark and Portugal, whilst Italy have been awarded 12 or more in all four of their competition games at an average of 15 per game (in 90 minutes).