Belgium and Russia lock horns at the home of Zenit Saint Petersburg to open their Euro 2020 campaign. The Belgians are strong favourites leading up to the encounter in a matchup which has produced nine goals in the last two meetings.
Saturday 12 May
Belgium are firm favourites to top group B at 7/10 odds, boasting a star-studded squad and a manager that I rate very highly, Roberto Martinez, who has been at the helm for 56 games from 2016. Arsenal legend Thierry Henry will also return to his role on the technical team to share his expertise. As a player, 22-year-old Henry earned France the European Championship back in 2000 among many other accolades.
Henry will be crucial to Romelu Lukaku especially, who is aiming to replicate the Frenchman’s feat of finishing as the tournament’s top goalscorer and inspiring his nation to victory. There’s no reason why Inter Milan’s spearhead can’t achieve his intended target after enjoying his best season to date in Serie A with 30 goals and 10 assists to his name across all competitions.
The past two times Eden Hazard has faced Russia in a Red Devils shirt, Belgium’s number 10 found the net twice on each occasion in fairly convincing victories.
Kevin De Bruyne is likely to miss the opening encounter, Manchester City’s talisman underwent minor surgery on facial injuries he suffered after a clash of heads with Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger in the UEFA Champions League final.
The entire squad is packed with players plying their trade in the very best leagues across Europe and are definitely in the running to win the competition outright. However, a young player that you should be on the lookout for is teenage sensation Jeremy Doku, a fearless and skilful dribbler.
With experienced campaigners like Dries Mertens in the frontline, Russia shouldn’t offer much resistance. If Belgium score early, it could get ugly for the Russians.
Denis Cheryshev will be Russia’s creative spark in a new-look team that will be hoping to improve on the dismal showing during Euro 2016 in France, finishing bottom of the group against Wales, England and Slovakia.
Former Real Madrid player Cheryshev has been playing his football for a host of Spanish clubs for the past 22 years, graduating from Sporting Gijon and going on to play for likes of Villarreal, Sevilla and Valencia. The midfielder will be expected to rally the youth around him in a group that they’re capable of qualifying from.
Yuri Zhirkov is the only defender left from the previously ageing backline which featured in the 2018 FIFA World Cup hosted in Russia. There are many untested players who’ve been given a chance to stake their claim.
Daler Kuzyaev, Magomed Ozdoev, Andrey Mostovoy and Artem Dzyuba together with Zhirkov will be playing at their home ground, the Saint Petersburg Stadium, which could provide the extra push needed against a world class team like Belgium.
Prediction: Belgium (-1) Handicap (18/10)
Belgium will run away with this one, confidently get on the Red Devils on the (-1) Handicap market at 18/10, and the brave punters should be on the lookout for Eden Hazard in the Anytime Goalscorer market.