Belgium vs Italy | Friday 2nd July 2021, 20:00 | BBC
The second of Friday’s quarter-finals comes from Munich, and it’s a mouth-watering clash. Belgium – the world’s top-ranked side – up against an Italian side who are unbeaten in 31 matches.
The Red Devils were tipped by many before the tournament to lift their first piece of major silverware. However, they are the outsiders in this one with doubts lingering over the fitness of influential pairing Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard.
They both limped off during the 1-0 win over Portugal and neither have been involved in full training in the build-up.
Meanwhile, Roberto Mancini could welcome Giorgio Chiellini back into the starting XI, as the Italian press also hint Federico Chiesa could come in to replace Domenico Berardi.
Given how the market is shaping up and the uncertainty surrounding De Bruyne and Hazard, then the outright market looks best swerved.
Defences to come out on top
You could see this become a chess match with so much at stake and how well these two have defended during the tournament. Since Euro 96, only 33% of quarter-finals have gone over 2.5 goals.
Belgium have only conceded once in 90 minutes, while Italy have only been breached in extra time – by Austria’s Saša Kalajdžić on Saturday. So, it’s no surprise to see under 2.5 goals trading at around 4/7-8/15.
De Bruyne’s influence helped swing their win over Denmark. He got a goal and an assist in that one, so his absence could blunt a familiar face to this Italian defence.
Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku bagged 24 goals in the Serie A last season and has netted three times at Euro 2020. During their Round of 16 game, he looked to bully Ruben Dias, something not many have done, but if they’re without that creative duo, Lukaku might struggle to influence this game and could be left isolated.
The betting angles
It’s a tricky puzzle to decipher this one, with the amount of conjecture around the team news. It really does muddy the water.
The first angle I’ll take is Italy shots. No side has had more attempts than the Azzurri, with them racking up 87 in their four games. That works out just shy of 22 per game.
The bookies have priced both sides lines up in a similar fashion and Sky Bet have a low line set at 13+ shots (10/11). I’m happy to take that with the Italians chancing their arm.
It’s landed in all four games, with Mancini’s men hitting 24, 13, 23 and 27. The last figure does include shots from extra-time, but against Austria, they managed 18 in the 90 minutes – 12 of those before half-time.
Meanwhile, I’m not sold on the OAP back-three Belgium could go with once more. Roberto Martinez’s sides aren’t known for their defending, so he’s done well to keep them tight. However, Denmark managed 21 shots, while Portugal had 23 the other day.
As ever with knockout football, if the Red Devils do hit the front, then it’ll be all on Italy to play on the front foot, to help the shots. Even if Italy score first, it’ll open it up for them to hit Belgium on the counter.
One man that has caught everyone’s eye for Italy is Leonardo Spinazzola. The Roma defender likes to bomb forward and could keep Thomas Meunier boxed in. With Jorginho holding his position to protect the centre-halves, it helps create overloads, making the 28-year-old heavily influential.
He’s recorded six shots in his three games so far, which is a fair few for a left-back. He hit two v Turkey and three in the 90 mins against Austria. Paddy Power is offering 13/10 for 2+ shots, which was on my radar.
Based on the numbers on fbref.com, he could be worth looking at for an assist. He’s recorded 14 shot-creating actions, as well as a couple of goal-creating actions. It was in extra time but teed up Chiesa to break the deadlock, so at 6/1, it’s worth half a point, given the areas he pops up in.
The stats markets are on the up and it’s here where I’ll have the final dabble. You can build this at EVS – over 7.5 Belgium goal kicks & over 13.5 Italy throw-ins.
I’ve outlined the Italy shots above. A high shot count should mean the opposition take have plenty of goal kicks. And Belgium have taken at least eight in three of their games (12, 1, 16 & 8).
Italy’s opponents have all taken at least eight, with Turkey (11), Wales (12) and Austria (13) all in double figures.
For the throw-ins, both sides have racked them up. Italy sit second on 95, an average just shy of 24, while Belgium are sixth on 78 – an average close to 20.
With the way Italy use their full-backs, Meunier and Thorgan Hazard are going to have plenty of ground to cover, and their challenges could result in throws.
We did see plenty of desperate defending with Belgium in front against Portugal and it resulted in the Iberians ending on 17 throws. The Red Devils’ have now seen three of their opponents take at least 14 throws – Denmark (14) and Russia (20) also hit the magic number during the group stages.
So, on the evidence of the data, as well as the market leaning in Italy’s favour, with key absences in the Belgian camp, then this could be a game played to the Azzurri’s strengths, therefore that Bet Builder looks strong.