Both teams enter having conceded only one goal through four games, but there is reason for worry on the Belgium side.
Manager Roberto Martinez said there is only a “50-50” chance that standouts Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will play against Italy because of injuries. Both players had to be replaced during Belgium’s round-of-16 win over Portugal, with De Bruyne suffering a left ankle injury and Hazard slowed by a hamstring injury. Martinez said neither player suffered “structural damage” but also warned it would be “very difficult to see them fully fit” for the Italy game.
On offense, the Azzurri surprisingly have gotten a boost from midfielder Matteo Pessina, whose unorthodox diving celebration of his goal against Austria has become something of a sensation in his home country.
Pessina toiled in Italy’s third division as recently as four years ago and only was added to the Euro squad when another player got injured right before the tournament. But he now has scored twice, both as a substitute, and might be among Roberto Mancini’s starting 11 against Belgium.
Shortly before the interval, Hazard junior broke the deadlock with his fourth goal in seven international appearances this year, but coach Roberto Martinez lost both Kevin De Bruyne and Thorgan’s brother Eden Hazard to injury during a hard-fought second period, as goalkeeper Thibault Courtois made a series of saves to seal progress.
Belgium have now won each of their last 14 matches throughout the qualifiers and these finals; equalling the record set by Germany and last-eight opponents Italy. That mark must fall in Bavaria, as both nations seek a 15th successive victory in the competition – after following a perfect streak in qualifying with four wins from four so far.
In all, the Red Devils have also scored in every one of their last 34 games, while winning 23 of their last 27. Such form, befitting the top-ranked nation in the world, saw them dominate Group B – with a 3-0 success against Russia being followed by comeback victory versus an emotional Denmark and then a regulation win over debutants Finland.
Amongst the scorers in that group-stage stroll was Golden Boot-contender Romelu Lukaku, who Italy midfielder Matteo Pessina this week described as “the best striker in the world”, and the Inter forward’s strike against Finland was a record-extending 63rd for his country. Lukaku leads the line for the most experienced squad at these Euros; a group which contains five players with 100 caps or more – 15 of whom played at Euro 2016, while 18 featured at the last World Cup.