You could not do better for a round of 16 than the world number 1 team (Belgium) against the defending champions (Portugal). And if you consider the collection of world-class talent on both sides, it really looks like a classic high-stakes encounter: knockout in the round of 16 would be seen as a failure for both teams.
This is particularly important for a Belgian team which has yet to realize the potential of its “golden generation” with a trophy. The FIFA World Ranking No.1 is good, but Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne know their team’s expectation is to finally bring Belgium to a major tournament final. For this reason, the pressure will be the strongest on the Red Devils.
Portugal’s game is designed in the mold of their captain and leader Cristiano Ronaldo, who at 36 could play his last Euro tournament. It can 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 have a better team this year than when they won this competition in 2016.
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It’s a game going well with no obvious favorites and a lot to play for on both sides.
What the group stage revealed
Portugal may have qualified for third place in their group, but they also clearly had the most difficult group to navigate (Germany, France, Hungary) compared to Belgium (Denmark, Finland, Russia). So if ‘battle tested’ is a useful trait, the Portuguese are more than ready for this heavyweight game.
What emerges from Portugal’s journey to the round of 16 is how the team handled each of their three matches. The Portuguese usually take what the game gives them and react accordingly. This approach led to stretches where they seemed to be on the ropes (including against Hungary), and the game against Germany eventually slipped away (4-2 loss).
When circumstances require, Portugal can also engage more numbers and force the issue. But the Portuguese are content to let the other team control the ball and then choose their attacking moments with Ronaldo and his teammate forward Diogo Jota showing they are capable of creating chances for themselves.
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Apart from a spell against Denmark in an emotionally charged Parken stadium, Belgium have been more consistent in their ability to control games, as they have faced inferior opposition. With playmaker De Bruyne back in the fold, he will appreciate the chance to separate the Portuguese defense if given the chance.
Belgium vs Portugal odds and predictions
Against France and Germany, the Portuguese were exposed in large areas and on bullets above, two areas of strength for Belgium. Center forward Romelu Lukaku, who has just had the best season of his career for Inter Milan, will be the key to the Belgians’ ability to capitalize on these phases of the game.
But Portugal have the best defender in the English Premier League in Ruben Dias, who is strong and physical, and plans to face Lukaku well. If Portugal can neutralize De Bruyne’s passing play in midfield and prevent the balls from reaching Lukaku, that will bode well for his chances to advance.
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And the Portuguese will also rely on the fragility of the Belgian psyche on the whole. Belgium will likely have the Euro 2016 quarter-final against outsider 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 out this scenario in the odds market.
Prediction: Belgium 1, Portugal 2
Odds courtesy of DraftKings
- Belgium to win (90 min): +150
- Belgium is moving forward: -148
- Belgium -0.25 Asian handicap: +112
- Prize draw (90 min): +220
- Portugal winner (90 min): +205
- Portugal advances: +115
- Portugal -0.25 Asian handicap: +155
- The two teams score: -134
- Total goals out of 2.5: +107