International Friendly: Belgium vs Portugal – Lineups, Preview and Prediction

Belgium kick off their final round of World Cup warm-up games against a Portugal side who have already drawn with Tunisia.


REUTERS/Miguel Vidal

Two of the World Cup’s dark horses meet on Saturday in an international friendly which will prepare both teams for the impending tournament in Russia.

For Roberto Martinez’s Belgium, this match is the first of three warm-up fixtures, the second set coming against Egypt and Costa Rica. 

Given the current trend for playing teams from the same continent as your opponents in the World Cup group stages, Belgium have got Tunisia and Panama covered. 

With Martinez leaving out Radja Nainggolan out of the World Cup squad, there is a sense in the country that Belgium cannot slip up at any point from here on in. This, though, has put both the manager and the players under an undue amount of pressure going into the tournament.

A series of poor managerial appointments have stymied the exciting squad that the Belgians have boasted for the last decade. Unless Martinez can turn things around, then there is a sense in which a whole generation have gone wasted.

Portugal are an equally difficult team to read. Having dragged themselves to the title at Euro 2016 and continued to be unimpressive after then, A Selecao das Quinas have failed to progress in any real way under Fernando Santos.

In many respects, this is because Santos has been tasked with the job of moving out the old guard and blooding new talent. 

However, he has hardly succeeded in this task. With youngsters Ruben Neves and Renato Sanches left out of the World Cup squads, there are questions about the rationale behind Santos’ thinking.

Again, any failure on his part could well result in his job coming under threat.

Belgium Lineup

With Radja Nainggolan out of the squad, Martinez will play Axel Witsel as a more defensively-minded midfielder in a midfield two alongside Kevin De Bruyne.

An all-Premier-League defense will sit in front of Thibaut Courtois. 

Up front, an impressive front three of Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku will make up one of the most dangerous attacking lineups in the World Cup.

Portugal Lineup

Cristiano Ronaldo is still resting after his long season with Real Madrid, winning the Champions League final the week earlier.

Expect to see Rui Patricio back in goal after having been rotated out for Anthony Lopes. 

Elsewhere, Ricardo Quaresma could be rested, giving exciting talent Goncalo Guedes a chance to impress in the run-up to the World Cup.

Key Battle: Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium) vs Bernardo Silva (Portugal)

Two of the most important cogs in the Manchester City team, it will be interesting to watch Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva go head-to-head on Saturday.

For De Bruyne, his team are relying on him as the productive catalyst, looking to get him creating chances for an embarrassingly top-heavy forward line.

Of course, Belgium’s all-out-attack could  be their undoing: the former Chelsea midfielder will be aware that, unless he can offer some sort of defensive heft to the Belgian midfield, then the golden generation could be heading home early.

REUTERS/Phil Noble

Bernardo will be expected to be productive too, albeit in a different way. A wide forward, the diminutive Portuguese will look to find space in wide areas and work his way into the box.

An inverted winger, this will give him the option of shooting from the edge of the box or driving to the byline to hit low balls into the box where the waiting Cristiano Ronaldo will wait – at least during the World Cup.

Although Bernardo hardly needs to make a name for himself, this could be the stage he needs to finally become a household name.

Talking Points

Will a 3-4-3 be enough for Belgium?

Belgium’s 3-4-3 has seen as meteoric a decline as it enjoyed a rise in recent seasons.

Popularised by Antonio Conte, who won the Premier League on his first attempt using it, the formation has become unstuck in the last few months with many teams recognising that it can be undone by simply matching up player-for-player and preventing any real progression.

Given that England will be playing a three-man defence, this is precisely what you could expect from the final group stage game, especially if both teams need a draw to proceed.

However, going beyond the group stages, the question is whether the formation can offer Belgium anything against more dangerous opponents.

Will Portugal rely too much on Ronaldo?

It is easy to see why a team might rely on Ronaldo especially when they struggle to a draw against Tunisia.

Of course, with the Real Madrid man back for the World Cup, the real question is whether or not he can make the same sort of impact that he has historically had.

Last time around, in Euro 2016, Ronaldo played a reduced role in his team’s campaign, spending most of the final off the field than on it.

Will Santos be able to avoid the pressure to build a team around him? Or will he be forced to risk Portugal’s place in the competition to massage the famous ego?

Prediction: Belgium 2-1 Portugal

This is an intriguing match-up between two teams who could go deep in the World Cup or crash out early.

Of the two teams, Portugal probably have more to prove at the present time. However, Belgium are hardly established and so expect a tetchy affair where neither side wants to give away too much.

Belgium, though, will likely have too much in the event.

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Jon Mackenzie

Jon Mackenzie is the Football Editor at RealSport.

Regularly appearing on talkSPORT radio, his work has also featured in The Economist, The Blizzard, Tifo Football and on the Futbolgrad Network.

A UEFA and Premier League-accredited journalist, Jon also founded A Team of John O'Sheas podcast and hosts it every week.

Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Mackenzie

 

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