Belgium and Italy will go head-to-head for a spot in the Euro 2020 semi-finals when they meet in Munich for their quarter-final tie on Friday.
However, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne are still doubtful. Both players were injured in the last-16 clash against Portugal – De Bruyne suffered an ankle injury, while Hazard pulled a hamstring – and they have not trained this week, including on Thursday morning before the team flew to Germany.
“It will be difficult for Eden to play tomorrow because of a soft issue injury and maybe a little different for Kevin who’s had a ligament problem,” Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said.
“We know that we are fighting against time but we are going to take until the last minute to take the decision. We have seen an improvement but we’ll only see tomorrow whether they can be involved or not. Unfortunately, we cannot make a decision at the moment.”
After maintaining their winning record at Euro 2020 with a 1-0 victory over Portugal, Martinez also said it was a pity the two teams were meeting at this stage of the tournament.
“We are the best two teams statistically at the tournament. Two teams that have each won a record 14 games in a row in the European Championship,” Martinez added.
“It’s a shame we have to face each other in the quarter-final. But it’s the quality of this tournament I suppose and we need to be ready for it. There are not a lot of secrets, both sides look like club teams and tomorrow’s game is going to be decided by small details.”
Italy, who conceded their first goal in 19 hours and 28 minutes against Austria in their 2-1 last-16 victory on Saturday, have also impressed in attack, scoring nine goals in four matches in the tournament.
But the prospect of facing Belgium, who have also won four out of four games at Euro 2020, does not mean Mancini will adopt more conservative tactics.
“We will play our own game, well aware that we are up against the best team in the world at this moment of time,” Mancini said. “If they have been top of the FIFA rankings for three years, it means they have been very good for a long time, but we will still play our way.
“We could tweak a few things along the way if things do not go to plan, but we have a certain style of play and Belgium do too. I am sure it will be a wonderful game of football. The winner will be the team who makes the fewest errors.”
Belgium’s main attacking threat is a familiar one for the Azzurri defence with Romelu Lukaku, who has scored three goals at Euro 2020, set to spearhead Martinez side’s attack at the Allianz Arena.
Lukaku was voted Player of the Year in Serie A last season, as he fired Inter Milan to their first top-flight title in 11 years.
“We have got a lot of respect for Lukaku because he had a great season for Inter, and this goes for our entire squad,” said defender Giorgio Chiellini. “All season we witnessed what a match-winner and important player he has become.
“I think it would be doing a disservice to say Belgium are all about Romelu Lukaku, though, as they have quality players throughout the pitch. We will prepare as we always have done, keeping an eye on Lukaku and their other top players.”
With De Bruyne and Hazard’s involvement yet to be confirmed, Belgium are set to have the remainder of their squad available for the quarter-final.
Italy have no new injury concerns, with Chiellini set to return after missing the last-16 fixture against Austria with a thigh injury.
This will be the fifth meeting between Belgium and Italy at a major tournament – all four previous meetings came in the group stages, in the 1954 World Cup and European Championship in 1980, 2000 and 2016. Italy avoided defeat in all four matches, winning three and drawing one.
Against no side have Belgium played more games at major tournaments without winning than Italy (4, level with France and Germany) while the only European nations Italy have faced more often at the same tournaments without losing are Germany (9) and Austria (5).
Italy have reached the quarter-final of the European Championship for a fourth consecutive tournament. Each of those previous three appearances at this stage have been decided by a penalty shootout, with the Italians eliminated by Spain in 2008 and Germany in 2016 while progressing past England in 2012. Indeed, that accounts for three of Italy’s five European Championship penalty shootouts – more than any other nation prior to the 2020 edition.
Belgium have won seven of their last eight matches at the European Championships – the exception in this run was at this stage at Euro 2016, when they lost 3-1 to Wales.
Italy have won all four of their matches at EURO 2020; they have never won five consecutive games at the European Championship finals, while only twice previously have they won five or more in a row at any major tournament (World Cup/Euros), winning seven in a row at the World Cup from 1934 to 1938 and five in succession at the World Cup in 1990.