Saint Petersburg (AFP)
After qualifying for the finals with an extraordinary record in the qualifiers, with 10 complete victories and 40 goals against only 3 against, Belgium renewed the date with Russia at the start of its European Cup campaign, as the “Red Devils” seek to confirm their position among the greats.
The men of Spanish coach Roberto Martinez wish to build on the impressive result they achieved in the World Cup Russia 2018, when they led the team to its best result in the World Cup by winning third place.
Coincidentally, the Belgian team fell into the second group along with its Russian counterpart, who also faced him in the qualifiers for the current continental championship, and beat them back 3-1 and back 4-1.
The return victory, which was achieved in November 2019 at the same stadium, which will host Saturday in Saint Petersburg, was the two teams’ confrontation in the first round of this group’s competition, which will witness on the same day a match between Denmark and the newcomer Finland in Copenhagen.
The “Red Devils” enters the continental championship, whose matches are distributed over 11 European cities, to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of its launch, postponed from the summer of 2020 due to the Corona virus, against the background of a single defeat in the last 23 matches at the official and friendly levels, and it was against England 1-2 last November in European Nations League.
Based on what he achieved in the 2018 World Cup and after, the Belgian national team deserved its lead in the FIFA rankings, but its defender Jan Vertonghen does not attach great importance to the classification, as he said on the eve of his country’s first match in the continental finals, that it is wonderful that Belgium is in the first place in the classification FIFA, but I would prefer us to be in 20th place and win the European Cup.
He continued, “I do not think that Belgium is the favorite to win the tournament. For me it will be France or England, but I think we can defeat them, we have beaten England on some occasions in the last few years, the same goes for France, I can assure you that no country likes to play against us!
“I really think we can beat any team in the European Cup,” he stressed. But Martinez’s men are starting the tournament amid doubts about the physical condition of some players, especially the star Kevin De Bruyne, who was injured during the Champions League final, which his team Manchester City lost to his compatriot Chelsea.
He suffered a double fracture in the face, which will force him to participate in a mask, if he recovers in time. The other star is Eden Hazard, who lived two disastrous seasons with Real Madrid, and due to a series of terrible injuries that chased him and criticism of his excess weight, the striker hopes to play a championship without trouble.
After winning the inaugural European Cup title in the name of the Soviet Union in 1960, and competing for the title in the following three editions, Russia was unable to impose itself as a major continental player except for 2008 when it reached the semi-finals. But it is counting on playing the group stage at home and among its fans, in order to bypass at least the group stage led by expert coach Stanislav Cherchesov, who depends on the nucleus of a squad that played the last World Cup on home soil, led by Alexei Golovin, Monaco midfielder, striker Artem Dzyuba and veteran Yuri Zhirkov.
Veteran Belgium midfielder Dries Mertens revealed that he is looking forward to playing against Russia again. We know the team and how they play. I think they have great players and high spirits. They are performing well in major tournaments.
“We treat them with great respect, it is clear that we want to win the match,” he stressed.
I think one of Russia’s biggest advantages is their striker’s ability to keep the ball, he’s very strong and athletic, I really like the way Dzyuba plays, but I have complete confidence in the defenders.”
The Russian team suffered a blow on the eve of its first match after having to replace Zenit Saint Petersburg’s winger Andrei Mostovoy due to infection with the Corona virus, and replacing him with Dynamo Moscow defender Roman Yevgenyev, who was in the initial squad of coach Stanislav Cherchesov.
And the Russian national team said in its Telegram newspaper: Because of the unfavorable result of the BCR examination, which Andrei Mostovoy underwent, the technical staff decided to call in defender Roman Yevgenyev to replace him.