EURO 2020 BEL vs POR preview: Early reckoning for top-ranked Belgium against holder Portugal

The contrast in progress could not have been greater with Belgium winning all its group games, while Portugal saw its fortunes ebb and flow before it finished third.

It could alternatively be said that Portugal is likely to be better prepared as compared to Belgium, having had to scrap against the likes of Germany and France (File Photo).   -  Getty Images

Top-ranked Belgium and its golden generation faces an early reckoning at the European Championship against determined holder Portugal, which clawed its way into the last 16 to set up the potential match of the round on Sunday.

The contrast in progress could not have been greater with Belgium masterfully overcoming adversity to win all its group games, while a pugnacious Portugal saw its fortunes ebb and flow before it finished third in its section after holding world champion France to a 2-2 draw on Wednesday.

An extra day of rest was Belgium's reward for topping Group B, having seen the talismanic trio of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel all return from injury after it looked as if the heart of the team had been torn out on the eve of the tournament, threatening to scupper its strong chances.

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The influence of the trio was clearly displayed when they came on after a torrid first half in Belgium’s second group outing against Denmark, neutralising the emotion-fueled host and turning a half time deficit into a 2-1 win in Copenhagen.

That allowed Roberto Martinez to rest players in the 2-0 win over Finland on Monday in a textbook tournament scenario.

But whether it turns out to be the ideal recipe for success in the knockout phase remains to be seen. It could be counter argued that Portugal is better prepared, having had to scrap against the likes of Germany, which beat it 4-2, and France.



Portugal coach Fernando Santos offered a simpler formula. “These matches are all like finals now and if you don't play well, you don’t win,” he told reporters.

“In league competitions you can play badly and still win but here at this tournament, at this stage if you don’t play well, you’ll lose... every time.”

Portugal has its own talisman in Cristiano Ronaldo, who needs one more goal to become the all-time top scorer in international football.

“He is in the form of his life,” said Belgium defender Toby Alderweireld, “but as a team we can stop him. That has always been our strength. But they will be difficult, they are a real tournament team,” he added.

The juxtaposition between the match-winning capabilities of Ronaldo and Belgium’s own prolific marksman Romelu Lukaku adds intrigue to the game at La Cartuja stadium

With 63 goals for his country, Lukaku, who is eight years younger than Ronaldo, might one day challenge the Portugal captain’s record.

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