Belgium v Italy
Tuesday June 14, 5:00am
The big clash in Group E sees heavyweights Belgium play Italy and this should be one of the highlights of the group stage. These teams met in November in a friendly and Belgium ran out as 3-1 winners so will start this match as the clear favourites.
Belgium have won seven of their last nine games heading into the tournament as they’ve been very strong going forwards but have also shown some weakness in defence with just one clean sheet in these matches. At the World Cup, two years ago, Belgium won all three group matches as they looked to fulfil the belief of many people that they had the potential to be champions. They were eventually eliminated at the quarter-final stage by Argentina and if anything they look even stronger this time around.
Since 2013 Belgium have won six of their 11 matches against teams ranked 6th-25th and that includes four wins in the last six. With Eden Hazard finishing the domestic season well, and the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, Christian Benteke and young attackers Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, Michy Batshuayi and Divock Origi this is a formidable attack and they’ve scored at least three times in eight of their last 14 matches, with all eight of those finishing with at least four goals in the match.
In contrast to Belgium’s squad the Italians look to be significantly weaker, in particular in attack and midfield, where it would be hard to pick any Italian players in a combined XI. Italy managed a draw with Spain in a friendly in March but they were then comfortably beaten by Germany 4-1 and while they qualified with an unbeaten record they faced just one team that was ranked in our top 50 and failed to win either meeting with Croatia.
In fact their recent record against top-50 ranked sides is terrible as they’ve won just two of their last 17 such matches. Moreover, since 2014 they’ve lost six of 10 games against top-20 ranked sides, including four defeats by 1-0 scores. Seven of those 10 games have had fewer than three goals and while they lack quality players in attack the Azzurri can select the superb Juventus defence of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzaglia and Giorgio Chiellini.
Italy’s recent defensive efforts haven’t been great though as they’ve only managed two clean sheets in their last eight and as a result our best bet for this match is to back Belgium to win at 2.63. With two teams that on paper suggest we have a strong attack against a strong defence we could expect a contrast in trends between ‘overs’ and ‘unders’.
However, six of Italy’s last eight matches have all seen both teams score with four having at least four goals and at 2.55 the price on Over 2.5 Goals looks far too big. The opening round of group games tend to be lower scoring than average but even taking that into account Over 2.5 is worth backing while Over 3.5 is a decent long shot at 5.25.
BACK – Belgium Win at 2.62