19:45 BST, Monday 11th June, King Baudouin Stadium (Brussels, Belgium)
Roberto Martinez finishes preparations for his maiden international tournament by hosting Costa Rica at King Baudouin Stadium on Monday night.
Belgium comfortably beat Egypt 3-0 on Wednesday night, even without their injured leader Vincent Kompany. They will be looking to extend their run of four consecutive clean sheets against Los Ticos.
Costa Rica looked jaded at Elland Road on Thursday night after a long flight from Central America. Coach Oscar Ramirez, a diminutive midfielder in Los Ticos’ 1990 World Cup campaign, will hope his side play more like they did in the dominant 3-0 win over Northern Ireland in San Jose last weekend.
Talismanic figures Bryan Ruiz and Christian Bolanos could make long-awaited returns to the starting XI.
Laurent Ciman had a go at deputising for Vincent Kompany against Egypt, but expect Celtic’s Dedryck Boyata to be given the nod on Monday night.
Mousa Dembele is likely to return alongside Kevin De Bruyne after being rested last time out, with Martinez wary of keeping the fragile midfielder’s body in good health.
Skipper Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens should keep their places behind the lone frontman, with Michy Batshuayi possibly being handed his first start since April 15. The Chelsea forward has recovered remarkably well from tearing his ankle ligaments and assisted Marouane Fellaini from the bench against the Egyptians.
Costa Rica Lineup
Costa Rica are built on an experienced defence, commanded by Real Madrid’s number one Keylor Navas. The back five have an average age of 29.8, and they will have to use every ounce of nous to keep out this dangerous Belgium side.
Los Ticos will hope that they can frustrate Belgium into running out of ideas and catch them on the break with their own attacking talents.
Talismanic figure Bryan Ruiz hasn’t featured yet in Costa Rica’s warm-up matches but has such pedigree within his national team, and a wand of a left foot that can be dangerous.
On the other flank, Costa Rica have the unpredictable Joel Campbell. Remarkably still an Arsenal player, Campbell will hope to put himself in the shop window this summer, but he will have to play a lot better than he did against England on Thursday night.
Key Players: Eden Hazard (Belgium) vs Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)
Hazard is an outstanding player and a vital figure in Belgium’s side. Whilst most of the attention may be on Kevin De Bruyne after his season with Manchester City, Hazard can be the man that breaks sides down this summer, starting with this game against Los Ticos.
Costa Rica’s defence is ageing and Hazard’s pace, clever movement and outstanding ability on the ball could bamboozle Cristian Gamboa, who hasn’t featured for Celtic since February.
It seems trite to suggest Navas as Costa Rica’s key man, being the one that plays for Real Madrid, but he really is so important.
You would imagine he will be busy against the Belgians, and his calming presence and aura can help calm those in front of him, particularly if Costa Rica’s defence come under severe pressure.
Can Belgium extend their run of clean sheets?
Roberto Martinez sides have never been known for their defensive solidity. Belgium however, have quietly gone on a run of four clean sheets on the bounce, ever since the more typical 3-3 draw with Mexico.
Vincent Kompany is a major doubt for the tournament after hobbling off against Mexico, so it looks like it will be Dedryck Boyata who slots in between Tottenham duo Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld in Belgium’s back three.
This is obviously a step down in quality and leadership, but in Vertonghen and Alderweireld, Boyata will have two of the world’s very best to help him through.
How fit is Michy Batshuayi?
Having found form on loan at Dortmund, it was a sad moment when Michy Batshuayi tore his ankle ligaments in April, looking likely to miss the finals.
But after a remarkable comeback, Batshuayi has made the final 23, making his return as a half-time substitute against Egypt.
He could be given the opportunity to prove his fitness from the start against Costa Rica on Monday night. If he can, it will be a great option for Martinez,
Can Costa Rica break down a side of genuine quality?
Oscar Ramirez’s side have struggled to score against better sides and looked utterly toothless against England at Elland Road.
They will lineup extremely defensively again in Russia, but they will need to show at least some threat going forward. Coming up against another side of genuine quality, it will be interesting to see if they can break the Belgian defence down.
Prediction: Belgium 3-0 Costa Rica
Costa Rica will battle earnestly but Belgium will have too much for them in Brussels. Expect confidence boosting goals for some of Belgium’s attacking stars.
Los Ticos’ ageing defence won’t be able to cope with the pace, movement and creativity of Martinez’s Belgium.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group C in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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