As recently as last November, these two teams faced each other, albeit in a friendly. Up until that game, Belgium had not beaten Italy in 12 recent occasions. However, after going behind in the third minute to an Antonio Candreva goal, Jan Vertonghen, Kevin de Bruyne and Michy Batshuayi sealed Belgium’s third ever victory against the Italians.
This is not the Belgium side of yesteryear which was easily beaten and was even topping the FIFA world rankings when they faced the Azzurri. They are now second behind Argentina and Europe’s highest in the rankings going into Euro 2016.
They have a side full of players gracing the top teams and leagues in Europe, including Thibaut Courtois, Tottenham pair Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku leading the line.
Only Portugal have beaten them in recent games and they are certainly one of the favourites to lift the trophy.
Italy are almost the polar opposite.
A team with a great history and pedigree are being called one of the worst Azzurri teams. It is an ageing squad, the fifth oldest in France, with precious few young stars waiting to make the breakthrough as has happened in so many previous tournaments with the likes of Roberto Baggio and Alessandro del Piero.
Some argue that fewer homegrown Italians are given the chance at a breakthrough. In Serie A ten years ago thirds of the players were Italian, now they constitute around a third. Some are arguing that Italian Manager Antonio Conte, who has already accepted the position as Chelsea’s next manager, has no interest in looking to the future or bringing through players.
In Conte’s defence, injury has robbed him of the country’s best young player, Marco Verratti, who has been sidelined with a groin problem, and Claudio Marchisio has also been ruled out, depriving Italy of their only other genuinely world-class midfielder.
This will be an interesting tie between two teams who appear to be switching their roles in European football.
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