Some of the best defences at the Euros
Belgium v Italy
Live on BBC One
It's to Munich we head for the right to play Spain or Switzerland in the semi-final, as this most unpredictable of tournaments swings towards its denouement. Finding a punting pathway through Euro 2020 has been treacherous. The unexpected makes for great television, but not necessarily a great P and L (see below).
England are the favourites at 3.1511/5 to win the Euro, and their draw makes that entirely logical. They have to beat Ukraine, and then either Denmark or the Czech Republic at home, before a Wembley final against one of the teams from this tougher side of the draw. If that team is either of these two or Spain, then England will be the underdogs in my eyes for that final, so home fans should take note. This is a long way from over, and Italy at 5.69/2 may be starting to look like a bet, whatever their pathway to the final.
The Italians start as favourites in Munich and look short enough for the win in 90 minutes at 2.486/4. At first glance, Belgium would seem to be the value pick here at 3.55 in what has the look of a 50/50 game. Belgium looked tired to me against Portugal though, and the injury concerns which loom over both Eden Hazard and especially Kevin De Bruyne have to be a serious worry. The feeling at the time of writing is that they have travelled with the squad but are out of the game, and that makes a fundamental difference to its likely outcome, moving the needle towards Italy.
So much depends on De Bruyne
The Azzurri showed tremendous fighting spirit to recover a tricky situation against Austria, and I believe that they will be stronger for that. Belgium's win over Portugal was impressive, but has left them limping a little. Italy have the feeling of a team with great strength of character, who are starting to believe that they can win the thing. In what is likely to be a tight game, that is a key psychological attribute.
Given both teams' defensive records, it's no huge surprise that under 2.5 goals is the overwhelming favourite in that particular market at 1.645/8. Between them, the two have conceded just one normal time goal in four games at Euro 2020, and that lack of a fully fit creative spark for Belgium may be even more keenly felt against what looks to be a watertight Italian backline.
Ultimately, this is going to come down to which team can find a way through, in a game that may well be decided by a single goal. And I favour Roberto Mancini's side. I was unconvinced by them defensively before Euro 2020, but have been impressed with the way that they have defended as a team, and believe that they can keep a clean sheet here. That leaves them looking for a hero at the other end of the field, and they surely have one in Immobile, Berardi, Insigne, or the once again the brilliant Federico Chiesa.
A battle made in Serie A
Belgium are going to have to rely on two of their Italy based players, Dries Mertens and of course Romelu Lukaku, and that adds to the storylines, piles on the intrigue. There's a danger for Belgium that the lack of a fully fit De Bruyne rather lessens the impact of Lukaku, and the Inter Milan striker is a known quantity to the Italian defenders. That's no guarantee that they will stop him, but they know HOW to. Again, take KDB away, and you give Chiellini and Bonucci the chance to do what they need to against Lukaku.
I hate relying on team news for a tip, and dislike putting forward nebulous seeming reasons for swinging one way or another, but that is precisely what I am going to do here. Italy are priced the way that they are because Belgium are missing two superstars, one of whom happens to be (in my opinion) the best player in the world. That puts me firmly in the Azzurri corner, as does that sense (and this is the nebulous bit) that Italy will bite down on the gumshield when it's required.
I can't see any mileage in the unders/overs and as a result won't pair those probabilities with the outright. It only muddies the waters. I suspect that Italy have now become the outright bet for the Euro at the prices, and are certainly the bet in Munich. Tight, but it should be an Azzurri night.
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