With a win against Denmark on Thursday, Belgium could set themselves up perfectly for a deep run in the knockout stage of Euro 2020. Their easy victory over Russia on Saturday means that a second win in Copenhagen would take any pressure off their third group match against Finland and would allow them to rest their key players for the round of 16.
Having not really having to break into their usual stride to brush aside Russia, Roberto Martinez’s side will be hoping to preserve their energy for when they need to play at their absolute best later in the tournament. The Red Devils had an easy time of it in St Petersburg as some hapless Russian defending gifted them two of their three goals in their opening victory. What is key is that even though some of their best chances were gifted to them, they were clinical and made sure they did not waste the opportunities that arrived.
As expected, Romelu Lukaku looked sharp as he got his Euros campaign off to a flying start with a brace. He will be hungry to add to those early goals and will want to fire his side to the round of 16 with a game to spare.
Although they were dealt a blow in Timothy Castagne’s injury, which resulted in him being ruled out of the remainder of the tournament, Belgium’s strength in depth was highlighted. Thomas Meunier was his replacement, and the Borussia Dortmund defender came in and had an instant impact as he scored the Red Devils’ second goal with a brilliant low-drilled effort. It is clear to see why this group is deemed Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’.
What will be interesting to note is that Belgium could wrap up their knockout stage qualification without their star man Kevin De Bruyne, who will still have a part to play in this tournament. Although it was not ideal to be missing the midfielder for their opening fixtures of the tournament, it could pay dividends in their hopes of winning the European Championship.
For whichever game De Bruyne is deemed fit and ready, he will come in raring to go having not had any minutes in the tournament so far. The nature of the facial injury he suffered in the Champions League final means that he will have been able to train at a reasonable rate during his absence. The playmaker will be full of energy upon his return, which will be a huge advantage to his side, especially if his first appearance is to come in the knockout stage. He has that creative edge that Belgium were clearly lacking against Russia but they still had the strength across the pitch to win comfortably.
Should they confirm their place in the round of 16 by defeating Denmark, expect Martinez to give the majority of his first team the night off when they take on Finland. The head coach did exactly the same thing in the World Cup in 2018 after victories over Panama and Tunisia allowed them to rest players in the final group game against England.
And a fresh Belgium will be a match for any side going into the business end of this competition. They went deep in the World Cup from just such a position, and the same group – three years older and wiser – can only benefit from the chance to recharge their batteries mid-tournament. That is why a win on Thursday could make a huge difference to Martinez’s side.