Game of the Day: Italy vs. Belgium, Lyon, 20:00
The team that always turns up at a tournament. Italy. Regardless of how poor a squad or form may have been over the course of 6 months or since their previous finals campaign, Italian coaches always seem to be able to cobble a squad of 23 together that delivers.
What makes Antonio Conte’s 23 man squad so interesting is firstly the fact that it really isn’t that great. And secondly, he is coming to Chelsea and for a group that has little to no bearing on England’s tournaments, many a people will be intrigued to see what this Conte fellow is all about.
At Juventus Conte favoured playing three centre backs and it with the same three centre backs at his disposal for Italy, it would be a great surprise if Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci didn’t line up in front of the ever present Gigi Buffon. For a country famed for its defensive solidarity, the success of Italy’s campaign seems very much based on a strong foundation with the likes of Thiago Motta and Daniele De Rossi breaking up play in midfield.
Conte’s biggest worry may well be goals, and where in particular are they going to come from? If we go back a decade to Italy’s last major footballing triumph, the 2006 World Cup, Italy had Alessandro Del Piero, Luca Toni, Francesco Totti and Filippo Inzaghi as 4 of the 6 strikers they took too Germany. Quite a list of attacking talent.
In this latest Italian squad, the goal scoring burden is most likely to be shouldered by Graziano Pelle, by no means an average goal scorer but as seen with his time in England, when Pelle goes missing – you don’t see him for weeks.
One coach that isn’t limited on the attacking flair is Marc Wilmots. Often lauded as having the best squad in Europe, Euro 2016 has an air of now or never for Belgium.
In short, Belgium have a ridiculous amount of talent in the final third of the field. Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Moussa Dembélé, Romelu Lukaku and Christian Beneteke are the stand out names for any fans of the Premier League but chuck the likes of Radja Nainggolan, Dries Mertens and the impressive Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco into the mix and it surely strikes heart into any defensive backline.
However, life isn’t all rosy for Marc Wilmots. Yes, he has enviable options up front but he also hasn’t got his Prince.
Vincent Kompany’s injury woes are well documented and the Manchester City and Belgium talismanic skipper will have to do with punditry if he wants to go to France. This issue in the heart of defence is compounded by Belgium’s lack of international level left back with Jan Vertonghen being utilised to fill that role.
This is by far and away the best game across the opening 5 days of Euro 2016 and will most likely decide who will come first and who will come second in the group. With Belgium’s attacking prowess going against Italy’s defensive solidarity, it’s a game where clear cut chances may be few and far between.
It’s hard to bet against that Belgium frontline though isn’t it? Regardless of what miracles Gigi might muster in the Italian goal.
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog