The international fixtures are commencing again this week after many days of club football and it brings with it new elements of enthusiasm and charm for the football fans. Although it’s all about domestic league competitions nowadays that rule football, football fanatics still find lots of enjoyment watching big guns going head-to-head against each other on the international stage. It’s a different kind of emotion that binds people together while supporting their respective countries in different continental competitions. We are up for another mouthwatering clash in the semifinals of the UEFA Nations League 2020-21. Reigning World Champions France lock horns with Belgium at the Juventus-Stadium in Turin on Thursday night for a fiery encounter. The toppers of Group A2 and A3 will now fight against one another to secure a place for the finals.
Both France and Italy are making their debut in the finals of the Nations League this year. The defending champions, Portugal have failed to qualify this time after finishing second to France in the group stage. No wonder that after a dismal show in the European Championships earlier, they will be looking to make a mark in the UENL. This fixture will see two of the possible future teammates Mbappe and Courtois lining up against each other. There will also be an ensuing battle between former teammates Hazard and Varane as also PL counterparts Pogba and DeBruyne.
So what to wait for, tighten your seat belts, and get ready to see an exciting faceoff between these top-two teams.
What separates this clash from the rest?
There can be no absolutely no reasons in the world that can prove out to be bigger than watching this fixture. Two European football powerhouses are up for a fascinating clash and no one would certainly want to miss it. When the world no.1 side squares off with the fourth-placed side, there are always high levels of excitement among the supporters. And the occurrence of this clash in the semifinals of the Nations League spices it up even more.
Belgium was knocked out by eventual winners Italy in the quarterfinals of the European Championship earlier in July. This time they will go all out to win one major trophy at least with their golden generation of talents. In various previous instances, they have come close to winning the coveted trophy, but have fallen short in each case. With all the marquee players available for selection, they can fancy their chances well of qualifying for the finals.
France, on the other hand, has also had a below-par performance in Euros and will be eager to seek redemption in the UENL. They have a quality bunch of players in the squad who can tear apart oppositions on their day. Deschamps also has an excellent blend of youth and experience in the team which helps them to form a strong bond. Frankly speaking, it’s practically the last chance for Deschamps to win something big as France’s coach. Let’s see if they can get the better out of Belgium and proceed to the finals of this prestigious tournament.
The match is slated to start at 00:15 IST or 18:45 GMT.
Belgium is on a great run of form since their heartbreaking loss to Italy in the quarterfinals of the European championships. They have won three consecutive matches on the trot, all of them being world cup qualifiers. Firstly they thrashed minnows Estonia 5-2 with a sublime brace from Lukaku headlining it. Witsel, Foket, and Vanaken were also on the scoresheet as the Devils secured a comfortable win. In their next match against Czech-Republic in WCQ, Belgium cruised to a 3-0win thanks to another superb show from Lukaku.
His eye-catching goal and an assist coupled with goals from Hazard and Saelemaekers sealed the deal for them. In their last assignment before the restart of the club fixtures, Belgium toiled to a 1-0 win against Belarus. With many big runs resting, it was a stern test for their new entrants to take the side home. Saelemaekers’s lone goal proved to be decisive and it gave the team the much-needed win. Next up is France, and Martinez knows a much-more improved performance from the side is required to knock out the former Champions.
France, contrastingly, is coming onto this game on the back of a few disappointing results in the September international break. The Les Blues have drawn two and won only one in their three WC qualifiers recently. To start with, they drew against Bosnia and Herzegovina at Home. The away side went ahead early only for Griezmann to equalize just before halftime. The game ended with honors shared between the teams. Secondly, the Blues also were held against Ukraine in their first match away from home. The home team went early just before halftime only for Martial to cancel out the opener minutes after the restart. Again in this fixture, the French side failed to find any late winner and went on to draw the match. Lastly, in their third game, they were able to win against Finland. A brace from Griezmann sealed the win in their pocket for the nervous French side. With all these results in mind, Deschamps has a big task cut out when his side faces the dark-horses tonight. In order to win tonight against Belgium, the French side has to give their level best. It remains to be seen whether they can live up to the usual hype and expectation surrounding them.
The Red Devils are traveling to Turin with no such major injury cases in the squad. They only have Thomas Meunier ruled out of the clash due to a knee injury. Other than him, Roberto Martinez has a fully fit squad to choose his starting XI from.
The Les Blues also will not have much to ponder about injuries when they face Belgium tonight. The only notable absentee will be N’golo Kante who will remain on the sidelines after he tested positive for COVID-19. Anthony Martial is also a doubt for the match as he suffered a knock against Everton on Saturday. Apart from these two, there are no other known injuries in the team.
Head to Head
In the last ten meetings between these two sides, France has a clear advantage. They have won five out of the total ten while Belgium has won only two. Three matches have failed to produce any result. In the most recent face-off between the two sides in the 2018 WC semifinals, France advanced to the finals courtesy of an Umtiti winner. Belgium has a point to prove and this may be their best time to give it.
Players to watch out for
The Madrid striker is in the form of his life since the start of the new season and has been their most prolific goalscorer. He has enjoyed his most flamboyant start to any season till now and will be looking to maintain his swashbuckling form. He has a whopping 9 goals and 7 assists for the Los Blancos in only 8 appearances. Undoubtedly, he will be eager to replicate this in French colors also. Against the mighty Belgians, he will be Deschamp’s go-to man for providing him the much-needed goals upfront.
The Manchester United midfielder is a different beast when he plays for France in the blue jersey. He is one of their most creative players on the field and is the leader of the midfield in Kante’s absence. His long-range passing and through balls coupled with the tackles make him an invaluable asset for the French team. He also maintains a swift transition between attack and defense and contributes well in every aspect. With over 7assists to his name this season, Pogba is the man who can win matches by his individual brilliance. Don’t get amazed if he turns out to be the star tonight!!
The Chelsea no.9 is the most feared striker in the world right now with his goalscoring abilities turning out to be a nightmare for defenders. Since joining the Blues from Inter, he has registered four goals in eight appearances. His heading and shooting skills within the box are classy and his poacher-like instincts make him a designated scorer. In the September international break, he had scored three times in only two starts. When he dons the Belgium Jersey, Lukaku is none other than a serial goalscorer. This time too, he will shoulder the responsibilities of providing early breakthroughs to his team.
Kevin De Bruyne
The Manchester City starlet is one of the fiercest attacking midfielders in the footballing world-known to date. His inhuman stats over the years have been a testimonial to the immense quality and talent he possesses. On his day, the Belgian has the ability to destroy any opposition with ease. In the seven starts he has done at City this season, he has already found the back-of-the-net two times. His creativity, inch-perfect crosses, impressive accurate passing are some indigenous qualities of De Bruyne which make him so exceptional. Against France, Martinez will once again depend upon his trusted man to deliver a solid performance on stage.
In all respects, it’s going to be an enticing and enthralling clash between two of the top teams in Europe. Both sides will definitely harbor the dream of playing in their first Nation’s League finals. This will be quite an action-packed game with the display of some exceptional pieces of football from the teams. Expect a fierce and cagey encounter to take place at the Juventus Stadium in Turin!! Can the former world champions regain their lost glory and progress to the finals by overcoming the challenge from the Belgians or will Roberto Martinez’s side upset them and advance to their maiden finals of a major tournament? An eventful and magical night awaits us at Turin tonight.
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