You can’t do much better for a Round of 16 match than the No. 1-ranked team in the world (Belgium) against the defending champions (Portugal). And if you consider the collection of world-class talent on both sides, it really sets up to be a classic high-stakes encounter: Elimination at the Round of 16 would be considered a failure for both teams.
It’s especially important for a Belgium team that has yet to fulfill the potential of its “golden generation” with a trophy. The No. 1 FIFA world ranking is nice, but Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne know that the expectation for their team is to finally get Belgium to a major tournament final. For that reason, the pressure will be heaviest on the Red Devils.
Portugal’s game is crafted in the mold of their captain and leader Cristiano Ronaldo, who at 36 could be playing his final Euro tournament. It might be ugly at times, but the Portuguese always seem to find a way to leave their mark on a game and a tournament. And Portugal has a better squad this year than when they won this competition in 2016.
It’s a match that sets up nicely with no obvious favorite and plenty to play for on both sides.
What the group stage revealed
Portugal may have qualified as the third-place team in its group, but it also clearly had the tougher group to navigate (Germany, France, Hungary) compared to Belgium (Denmark, Finland, Russia). So if “battle-tested” is a helpful trait, the Portuguese are more than ready for this heavyweight match.
What stands out about Portugal’s road to the Round of 16 is how the team has managed each of its three matches. The Portuguese generally take what the game gives them and then react accordingly. This approach leads to stretches during which they seem like they’re against the ropes (including against Hungary), and the match against Germany ultimately got away from them (4-2 loss).
When the circumstances demand it, Portugal can also commit more numbers forward and force the issue. But the Portuguese are content letting the other team control the ball and then picking their moments in the attack with Ronaldo and forward teammate Diogo Jota showing they’re capable of creating chances for themselves.
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Outside of a spell against Denmark in an emotionally charged Parken Stadium, Belgium has been more consistent in its ability to control matches, granted it came against inferior opposition. With master playmaker De Bruyne back in the fold, he’ll relish the chance to pick apart the Portuguese defense if they give him the chance.
Belgium vs. Portugal odds & prediction
Against the likes of France and Germany, the Portuguese were exposed in wide areas and on balls over the top, both areas of strength for Belgium. Center forward Romelu Lukaku, who’s coming off the best season of his career for Inter Milan, will be key to the Belgians’ ability to capitalize on those phases of play.
But Portugal have the best defender in the English Premier League in Ruben Dias, who is strong and physical, and projects to match up well against Lukaku. If Portugal can neutralize De Bruyne’s passing game in midfield and prevent balls from getting to Lukaku, that will bode well for its chances of advancing.
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And the Portuguese will also be banking on the fragility of the Belgian psyche in a big spot. Belgium will likely have the Euro 2016 quarterfinal against underdog Wales (3-1 loss) in the back of the players’ minds and the fact that they haven’t beaten Portugal since September 1989.
A close match in which both teams score projects to be the most realistic scenario. There are a few options to play that scenario in the odds market.
Prediction: Belgium 1, Portugal 2
Odds courtesy of DraftKings
- Belgium to win (90 mins): +150
- Belgium to advance: -148
- Belgium -0.25 Asian Handicap: +112
- Draw (90 mins): +220
- Portugal to win (90 mins): +205
- Portugal to advance: +115
- Portugal -0.25 Asian Handicap: +155
- Both teams to score: -134
- Total goals over 2.5: +107