The round-of-16 of the European Championships has thrown up some intriguing ties for all involved. One of the grandest amongst them is poised to be Belgium taking on Portugal. Roberto Martinez’s side won all of their group games while Portugal stuttered and fought to eventually make it through.
Nevertheless, it is set up to be a fascinating encounter between two nations who possess a plethora of riches at all positions of the pitch. FootTheBall presents to you the combined XI for this fixture and why this match is a must-watch.
GOALKEEPER- RUI PATRICIO
One of the many tough choices that will define this list. Courtois is a fantastic keeper on any given day and can compete with the world’s best. However, he has had little to do so far in the tournament and that is why we go with Rui Patricio. The Wolves custodian has been in fine form given the fact that Portugal have been under the pump defensively. Though he was beaten four times against Germany, none of them were squarely his fault.
What a save #Patricio!
Great use of the top hand which in this case is not only closer to the ball but also allows #Patricio to use his momentum to impart extra force on the ball
There’s no way he saves it if he goes with his bottom hand! pic.twitter.com/HAawHmldFS
— John Harrison (@Jhdharrison1) June 23, 2021
Patricio made up for that terrible Selecao display by producing a wonderful save from Paul Pogba last night. After tipping his fierce long-range shot onto the crossbar, he got up immediately to deny Antoine Griezman on the rebound. Coupled with his leadership skills and calmness in the box, Patricio will surely be a strong wall between Belgium and the goal.
RIGHT WINGBACK- THOMAS MEUNIER
Meunier had a fantastic start to the Euros, picking up a goal and an assist against the Russians. After injury ruled Timothy Castagne out, Meunier is guaranteed to be the starter against Portugal. He likes to get forward often and will be a threat for the Portuguese left-back. Indeed, Meunier will draw the attention of the left side of his opponents which can be doubly beneficial for the Red Devils.
⚽️ Belgium double their lead through Thomas Meunier
👏 The right back has a strike rate of just under 1 in 6 for #BEL, with 8 goals in 48 caps
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) June 12, 2021
Meunier also has the license to roam around the edge of the penalty box while his team is attacking so that he can pick up the ball quickly. In defence, he will be a hefty opponent to get past given his big frame and propensity to put pressure when Belgium is not in possession of the ball.
CENTRE BACK- PEPE
The ageing workhorse has shown that he can still mix it up with the best in the business. He has a passing accuracy in the high 80s and remains a key threat in the air. Even though he does not have the pace he once possessed, his strength and hard tackling nature will be crucial in stopping Romelu Lukaku from advancing.
— Pepe (@officialpepe) June 4, 2021
Indeed, Pepe will be relishing this matchup given that his partner Ruben Dias has been having an ordinary tournament by his standards. Fernando Santos will turn to his trusted aide once again to make sure this leaky defence stays intact in front of the famed Red Devils offence.
CENTRE BACK- TOBY ALDERWEIRELD
The Tottenham defender has developed into a fantastic passer over the years. He is a keen mover of the ball, completing 100 passes against Russia in the opening match. Alderweireld is also extremely mobile without the ball and has enough speed to cover onrushing attackers. He can read the game very well and put in challenges at the right moments which will be a key facet while facing the Portuguese frontline.
Happy to grab the 3 points in a special match… @ChrisEriksen8, we got you 👊
— Toby Alderweireld (@AlderweireldTob) June 17, 2021
Belgium’s defence has been pointed as the one weak link of the top team but with a rested Alderweireld back in the line-up, they can surely be more than just making up the numbers at the back.
LEFT WINGBACK- THORGAN HAZARD
The younger of the Hazard brothers has been a revelation at wingback for the Red Devils. His pace with the ball and his attacking disposition make him a considerable threat. A case can be made that he ignores his defensive duties at times but his speed across the pitch gives him enough time to trackback.
Thorgan Hazard has now scored seven goals for Belgium.
Just another 25 to catch Eden. 😅 pic.twitter.com/VbODVDgfo6
— William Hill (@WilliamHill) June 17, 2021
Furthermore, he is also a keen crosser of the ball by taking it to the byline and aiming for the bodies in the middle. His expertise from set-pieces will also add another layer of threat for Portugal as their flanks will have to be well-guarded.
CENTRE MIDFIELDER- YOURI TIELEMANS
The 24-year-old has not lit up the tournament yet but plays a vital role in the Red Devils setup. By staying across the middle of the park, he allows the other attack minded players to get forward. He likes to orchestrate from behind and is helped by his exquisite passing range from any distance. This tie against Portugal seems like the perfect time for him to rediscover his club form.
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) June 23, 2021
Tielemans is also adept at taking on shots from long range which will come in handy given the shakiness of the Selecao’s defence. However, his main attraction remains how creatively he gets the ball forward and starts an attack when in possession.
CENTRE MIDFIELDER- RENATO SANCHES
The Ligue 1 winner has lit up the tournament by providing a dominant display against France. Sanches provided the much needed youthful burst of energy required in a mostly unimaginative midfield for Santos’ side. Given how badly Bruno Fernandes performed in the first two matches, Sanches repaid the faith shown in him by dictating the tempo of the game.
Renato Sanches’ game by numbers vs. France:
95 total touches
93% pass accuracy
15 duels contested
9 duels won
4 attempted tackles
3 successful tackles
3 attempted take-ons
3 successful take-ons
3 fouls suffered
1 key pass
Absolutely outstanding. 🇵🇹 pic.twitter.com/T6Q4LJbJ3L
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) June 23, 2021
Though he cannot do it alone, of course, it is a much needed positive for a team that is reliant on the prowess of its frontline. Still only 23-years-old, if Sanches can make good use of the ball and help out Ronaldo and co. upfront in this pivotal clash against Belgium, his stock will only rise across the transfer market.
ATTACKING MIDFIELDER- KEVIN DE BRUYNE
It really took De Bruyne only a game and a half to assert his status as one of the world’s best. With a goal and two assists to his name already, the Man City maestro is leading the way for Belgium in terms of creating chances. Not only is he an extraordinary passer of the ball, but De Bruyne also likes taking on defenders and beating them with trickery.
Kevin De Bruyne’s chances created at #EURO2020:
7 vs. 🇫🇮 [89 minutes]
2 vs. 🇩🇰 [45 minutes]
Outstanding. 🇧🇪 pic.twitter.com/kRyS9BjLrd
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) June 21, 2021
His ability to navigate small gaps and lay off the ball is a crucial asset for any team. De Bruyne’s connection with Lukaku has also been a huge positive for Belgium in their quest to score more goals. Portugal will need to keep a very close eye on him if they are to keep his talents to a minimum.
FORWARD- DIOGO JOTA
The Liverpool forward has been having a good tournament so far, taking on shots and getting in good spaces. His speed and skill of getting away from defenders has seen him become the second most potent threat of the team after Cristiano Ronaldo. Jota has been deployed on the left of the front three by Santos but he can switch effortlessly across the line.
10 – Diogo Jota has been directly involved in 10 goals for Portugal in all competitions since the start of 2020 (scored seven, assisted three), a joint-most among all Portuguese players in that span (Cristiano Ronaldo, also 10). Arrow. #EURO2020 #POR pic.twitter.com/SFAA8236bX
— OptaJoao (@OptaJoao) June 21, 2021
That has helped him see a lot of the ball in the opening three games. If he can continue to increase his efficiency in front of goal coupled with better linkup play, Jota can really be a handful to deal with. With one goal and one assist already, and the midfield not providing much support, he is most firmly the perfect foil for Ronaldo in attack.
FORWARD- ROMELU LUKAKU
Lukaku has been as imperious at the Euros as he was over Inter’s title-winning campaign. The Serie A MVP has scored three goals but it is his wider game that has earned the most plaudits. Indeed, Lukaku has developed into an adept all-round attacker who can brilliantly use his strength and speed against defenders.
Romelu Lukaku has scored 41 goals in all competitions since the start of 2020/2021.
That one will count. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/2va9VPEtEv
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) June 21, 2021
He is a threat in the air around both boxes and regularly outmuscles opponents while attacking. Furthermore, his accuracy from in front of goal is deadly as he strikes his shots ferociously which leaves goalkeepers grasping at thin air. Now that De Bruyne and him are linking up regularly, the duo will cause a lot of headaches for the Portuguese backline.
FORWARD- CRISTIANO RONALDO
The certified greatest goal scorer in the history of men’s football, Ronaldo is showing no signs of slowing down. Already racking up five goals and one assist, the 36-year-old is the central threat for any opponent he faces. With his supreme jumps, unerring accuracy and fantastic speed across the field, Ronaldo will be hungry for scoring more.
Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored more goals at the Euros and World Cup combined than any other player in history 🐐 pic.twitter.com/GWJsaDAd4Q
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 23, 2021
His affinity from long range will also keep Belgian defenders on their toes while it is hard to see how they can stop him one-on-one. Ronaldo can also draw out defenders, allowing his teammates to attack quickly into the empty space which will be another worry.