FootballInternational Football

Portugal v Belgium: Late drama and goals from Ronaldo and Lukaku could make this one a classic

June 25, 2021January 7th, 2022

CONSIDERING that Belgium and Portugal both inhabit the top five of FIFA’s world rankings, it’s surprising how rarely these teams encounter the other.

In the last five years there have been two friendlies but these don’t tell us much about the dynamic of their distant relationship. One was a goalless warm-up just prior to the World Cup. The other featured only a handful of names we might expect to see on Sunday evening in Seville.

Naturally, Ronaldo scored the winner in that, a relatively uneventful 2-1 victory. Naturally, Romelu Lukaku bagged the consolation.

Beyond these glorified work-outs we have to go all the way back to 2007 to the last meaningful meeting which makes this a fairly unblemished rivalry in recent times between two elite international sides. This adds an extra layer of intrigue to a last 16 clash that already fascinates.

 

 

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of many is the prospect of two of the most ferociously prolific finishers around sharing the same pitch again, both hell-bent on winning this summer’s Golden Boot award and both going the right way about it. Ronaldo appears to be on a mission to sign off on his European adventures with the Selecao in spectacular fashion and to that end he is on course to replicate his staggering scoring streak in 2019. CR7 has converted seven in his last six for his country.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner is 6/1 to score from a header and given his aerial prowess this represents decent value. It’s also worth noting that Portugal have completed six times more crosses than Belgium in the competition so far  

As for Lukaku, he continues to thunder along, uncontainable. The Inter forward boasts a goal every one-and-a-half games for the Red Devils across a bountiful decade and has only failed to get on the scoresheet five times in his last 21 appearances.

Here his threat is further heightened by Kevin De Bruyne’s return to fitness and prominence with the Manchester City star starting to sprinkle the tournament with his trademark magic. Already he has created more chances than any other player despite only playing 135 minutes. Belgium’s assist king has directly created 17% of Lukaku’s international goal-haul down the seasons and once again, against Finland served one up on a platter.

Lukaku has scored twice or more in a single game on 19 occasions for his country. He is 9/1 to make it a round twenty in Seville

Even looking past this fearsome pair though, this promises to be a game furnished with goals. Belgium and Portugal accrued seven apiece in the group stage, a figure only topped by Holland to date, and though each defence has considerable merit, they can be breached. This is particularly true of Portugal’s as witnessed in their 4-2 defeat by Germany last weekend. Indeed, as a broader point, Fernando Santos’ side can hardly claim to have a good record against the top ranked nations. They have won just two from their last eight.

 

 

If this swings the pendulum towards the World Cup semi-finalists there are other factors too that strengthens their status as slight favourites.

Roberto Martinez’s men are unbeaten in 12 and have ground out four clean sheets in their last six but even this impressive form pales in significance to having their best players back and firing.

Belgium’s hopes were always going to rest on Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne regaining match-fitness across the tournament without relapse and so far it’s all going according to plan. Don’t under-estimate incidentally, Witsel’s importance even if his skill-set is the less showy of the trio. The Borussia Dortmund midfielder has a 98.5% passing accuracy from the group stage, the second best of any player at Euro 2020.

The Red Devils should be backed to squeak though then after some thrills, spills and drama – Belgium to win and over 2.5 goals is 3/1 as a Bet Builder – and that leads us to question when we can expect the thrills and spills to occur.

In their last 20 fixtures, Belgium have scored 53% of their goals in the first half and should they continue in that vein that would be very bad news for Ronaldo and co because the last time they lost from a winning position was in October 2018. Belgium are superb front-runners.

Countering this however, their opponents this Sunday have only conceded once in the opening 25 minutes in their last 25 games. Portugal are superb at early shut-outs.

Assuming these habits cancel each other out makes the 18/5 available for the first goal to be scored between the 30th minute and the end of the first half tempting.

It also should be factored in to your matchday betting that 25% of Portugal’s goals scored since November 2019 have arrived in the 80th minute or after. Did we merely say drama? Make that late drama.

Elsewhere, there is plenty of value to be found, especially when you stray from the more popular markets.

 

 

A pretty standard 2/1 is offered up for a penalty to be awarded and this would usually come down to individual inclination but with four given in the final four group games there is a suspicion that VAR is starting to impact more and more on the Euros. If this proves so, then a pretty standard price becomes a good one.  For the record, there has been a bumper 14 spot-kicks so far; one every 231 minutes. Don’t be surprised if this already high number quickly escalates.

Corners are also a potential pay-out. Portugal are 13/10 to win more than Belgium over the 90 minutes and it stands to reason that a side that attempts as many crosses as they do are rewarded with numerous set-pieces. This is born out in the stats too. In their last 20 games the Selecao have averaged 6.5 corners per game. This dwarves Belgium’s 4.5.

Lastly, Portugal are evens to have over 4.5 total shots on target, including in extra-time. If they’re behind and desperate, with the varied firepower they possess, and with an average of 6.9 shots on target per game over the last two years, that’s a great shout.