Two European powerhouses seeking continental glory after disappointing Euro 2020 campaigns meet in Thursday’s UEFA Nations League semi-final, as Belgium do battle with France at the Juventus Stadium.
Roberto Martinez’s side eased to top spot in League A Group 2 to advance to the final four, while Les Bleus pipped reigning champions Portugal to top spot in Group 3.
Yet another shot at that elusive major tournament trophy went begging for Belgium at Euro 2020 – with the world’s number one ranked nation falling to Italy in the quarter-finals after ending Portugal’s title defence – but they responded in ideal fashion last month.
Indeed, the Red Devils claimed three victories from three in World Cup Qualifying fixtures with Estonia, the Czech Republic and Belarus – scoring nine goals and conceding just two – with Dennis Praet netting the winner against the latter.
One of Belgium’s two defeats in their last 31 games across all tournaments did come in their Nations League group almost a year ago, as England saw off Martinez’s side 2-1 at Wembley, but Belgium otherwise gleaned five wins, 15 points and 16 goals scored to finish atop the pile.
Despite the wealth of irrepressible talent that has emerged through Belgium’s ranks in recent years, the Red Devils are still waiting for a piece of silverware to mark their rapid rise, and overcoming Italy or Spain in the final should they get there will be no mean feat.
However, with eight wins from their last nine in all tournaments, Belgium may be regarded as slight favourites to advance to Sunday’s showpiece event at San Siro, with their upcoming opponents not exactly boasting a form book befitting that of world champions.
The cracks had begun to appear in Didier Deschamps’s ranks during Euro 2020 – although Les Bleus still made it out of the group of death at the top of the pile – and they have struggled to stamp their authority on the continent since Switzerland shocked the footballing landscape in the summer.
During September’s World Cup qualifiers, France were held to a pair of 1-1 draws by Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ukraine but restored parity with a 2-0 win over Finland in their most recent battle, with Antoine Griezmann notching up both goals on the day.
Victory over Finland saw France end an alarming run of five games without a win across all competitions, but only being able to boast one triumph from their last six games is concerning nonetheless, and Deschamps’s men may not be considered favourites to go all the way here.
On a slightly more encouraging note, only one of France’s last 14 competitive and non-competitive fixtures has ended in defeat, and they swept aside the competition in their Nations League group – taking 16 points from a possible 18 against Portugal, Croatia and Sweden to make the final four.
Les Bleus’ successful run to the 2018 World Cup crown saw them edge past Belgium 1-0 in the semi-finals, but that success represents their only win from their last four against the Red Devils, who have failed to score in three of those games, however.
Belgium Nations League form:
Belgium form (all competitions):
France Nations League form:
France form (all competitions):
We say: Belgium 2-1 France
The absence of Kante will be a huge blow to a France side aiming to figure out how to keep Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku quiet, and Les Bleus’ recent form is not all that inspiring.
Belgium supporters are getting restless as their side seeks to end multiple disappointments in major tournaments, and we can envisage the Red Devils being able to eke out a narrow win en route to the final in Milan.