Belgium and Portugal will face a major test ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Saturday, as the two teams go head-to-head in Brussels.
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Portugal are the current European champions, while Belgium enter the World Cup with hype and momentum after a record-breaking qualifying campaign. Both teams are filled with talent known for their scoring exploits, so for neutral fans, this should be must-watch television.
Here is a look ahead at the match.
Date: Saturday, June 2
Time: 7:45 p.m. BST/2:45 p.m. ET
Venue: King Baudouin Stadium, Brussels
TV Info/Live Stream: MUTV, ESPN
Belgium vs. The Elite
There’s no denying Belgium’s qualifying campaign was impressive―the Red Devils went unbeaten, winning all but one of their matches and setting a new record for goals scored in a UEFA qualifying group with 43. Per UEFA.com’s Paul Saffer, world champions Germany equalled the amount.
Belgium feasted on a number of smaller teams―the likes of Gibraltar and Estonia never stood a chance―and have impressed against some of the continent’s best as well in recent years, with wins over France, the Netherlands and Italy. Counting friendlies, they haven’t lost since 2016.
But the Red Devils have shown vulnerabilities against solid teams lately, including a 3-3 draw against Mexico, a narrow 1-0 win over Japan and a draw with Russia last year.
In those matches, the Belgians struggled with each team’s quicker, more athletic players out wide and up top―another reminder of their relative weakness at the full-back position.
Portugal have plenty of attacking talent and will provide the hosts with a stern―and needed―test ahead of the World Cup. We’ll learn whether the hype is legitimate on Saturday.
Can Portugal’s Defence Survive the Onslaught?
The current European champions wasted a 2-0 advantage in their last friendly, settling for a 2-2 draw against Tunisia, a team not expected to do much at the World Cup.
That’s a bad omen for Portugal, who enter the tournament with some question marks. They’re missing a number of depth players who played a key role two years ago, including Barcelona’s Andre Gomes and Bayern Munich’s Renato Sanches, who have since regressed.
On top of the absentees, there have been some changes to the starting XI as well. One of those changes came in central defence, where longtime starter Pepe paired with 21-year-old Ruben Dias against Tunisia.
Portuguese football expert Jan Hagen liked what he saw:
The real test will come against Belgium, who are loaded with attacking talent and will put the duo under constant pressure.
If Dias can hold his own against Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and the rest of the Red Devils’ vaunted squad, he’ll more than earn his spot in the team. It’s a major ask for the youngster, however, and something to keep a close eye on.