Belgium and Croatia will both endeavour to round off their Euro 2020 preparations with a victory when they do battle at the King Baudouin Stadium in Sunday’s friendly.
Both footballing powerhouses played out 1-1 draws in their midweek encounters, with Belgium being held by Greece while the Chequered Ones failed to get one over Armenia.
With the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois all out of contention for the meeting with Greece, a ravaged Belgium squad failed to make their dominance count for large periods against Greece, but a fine finish from Thorgan Hazard propelled the Red Devils into the ascendancy come the half-time whistle.
However, the rarest of goalscorers in centre-back Georgios Tzavellas would restore parity for Greece in the 66th minute as Belgium had to shake hands on a stalemate – not exactly a morale-boosting result before their mission for European glory begins.
Nevertheless, hopes remain high in Brussels as Roberto Martinez looks ahead to what could be a historic tournament for Belgium, although the Spaniard has had to confirm the solemn news that De Bruyne will likely be unavailable for their opening clash of Euro 2020 with Russia on June 12.
The likes of Youri Tielemans and Yannick Carrasco can provide admirable flair in De Bruyne’s absence, but Russia, Finland and Denmark will all smell blood should the Manchester City man’s injury setback prove difficult to overcome, and Belgium would do well to avoid any further fitness concerns before they endeavour to win a major tournament for the very first time.
While Thursday’s draw with Greece prevented the Red Devils from winning six in a row at home across all competitions, Martinez has now overseen an eight-game unbeaten run since defeat to England in the Nations League last October, and Belgium have not been beaten at their headquarters since David Silva inspired Spain to a 2-0 friendly win all the way back in September 2016.
Meanwhile, Croatia opted to start most of their big-hitters in Luka Modric, Andrej Kramaric and Ivan Perisic for the visit of lowly Armenia in midweek, and the latter’s 23rd-minute header – during his 100th game for the national team – put the Chequered Ones a goal to the good before the half-time whistle blew.
However, Zlatko Dalic’s side were pegged back by a 72nd-minute equaliser from Wbeymar Angulo as Armenia went toe-to-toe with the 2018 World Cup runners-up and came away with a remarkable draw to show for their efforts.
Dalic lamented a lack of “seriousness” from his side post-match, but the Croatia boss was not overwhelmingly concerned about his side’s failure to beat a team ranked 76 places lower than them in the FIFA world rankings, and he has vowed to set his side up against Belgium as they will do at Wembley in their Euro 2020 opener with England.
Fixtures with the Czech Republic and Scotland also await for Croatia this summer, and having now managed to win just two of their last eight games in all competitions, Dalic could do with a confidence-boosting performance against the top-ranked team in the world before the real challenges commence.
However, Croatia have only managed to come out on top in one of their last four meetings with Belgium, and the Red Devils claimed a 2-1 win when the sides last met during qualification for the 2014 World Cup, with Lukaku netting a brace on the day.
Belgium International Friendlies form:
Belgium form (all competitions):
Croatia International Friendlies form:
Croatia form (all competitions):