A couple of early exits leaves the marquee matchup of the weekend to be an exciting showdown between Belgium and Italy. Two of the strongest teams in group play, we are assured of both some fireworks and strong technical play during this draw. Belgium has the firepower to turn the tables quickly, so the Italians will need to come into this one looking to outscore rather than just not conceding.
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Romelu Lukaku, Alex Witsel, and Thorgan Hazard may have to go at it alone if Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne cannot get cleared for their match against Italy. Belgium will need all of the firepower possible to force their way past an impressive Italian side that did not concede a goal until the round of 16. Healthy, Belgium has everything it needs to pull off the mini upset and advance. However, having two star players with knocks and questionable to play will make things more tricky for Roberto Martinez’s side.
The Azzurri have lost their air of invincibility, but that was always expected to happen. Keeping a clean sheet for the entire tournament is improbable at best, but conceding to (let’s be fair) a weaker side like the Austrians has to have Italy weary. There is no doubt about the ascension in class when we are discussing Austria versus discussing Belgium. While not considered a powerhouse by casual bettors or fans, Belgium has some of the top players in the world in their starting XI when healthy. Scoring will need to be their focus on Friday.
This is a contest that can go either way. This is evidenced in the advancement odds, with Italy at -155 and Belgium at just +120. Italy is the stronger side and comes into this game relatively healthy, which may play a major factor in this match’s story. If the game comes down to a game of offensive wits, Belgium may be able to shock the world. However, lacking critical firepower and the backend prowess of the Italian side may well prove too much for the Belgian side to overcome. The Italians are strong up and down their starting XI and have the necessary balance to capture the win if they are clicking. Tap Italy to advance, but it’s closer than one may think.
Pick: Italy to advance (-155)
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