Belgium have everything in favour for a deep Euros run
Belgium are top of the FIFA World Rankings and yet only third favourites at 13/2 to win Euro 2020. Does that mean Roberto Martinez's side are being underrated?
You can come at it in a variety of ways but Belgium are the odd ones out when looking at the top nine in the betting. Nope, it's not for beginning with 'B' or ending with 'm': instead, they're the only nation in that leading bunch who haven't won a major trophy.
And yet, it's easy to find plenty of good news. First, this is Belgium's 'Golden Generation' and they seem to be getting closer. At the 2018 World Cup they played some delightful stuff before being edged out by eventual champions France in the semi-finals.
History offers hope
Second, while the World Cup is a closed shop won only by the biggest football nations, the Euros are far more welcoming to smaller countries looking to make the breakthrough.
Czechoslovakia (via Panenka's famous penalty) upset West Germany in the 1976 final, Denmark famously came off the beach to win in 1992 after the break-up of Yugoslavia opened up a place and Greece were shock winners in 2004.
Holland lost back-to-back World Cup finals in 1974 and 1978 but got the job done in this tournament, helped by Marco van Basten's outrageous volley in the 1988 final. And Portugal hoisted the trophy in 2016 to finally give their own Golden Generation something tangible after years of promise.
Belgium have echoes of those Dutch and Portuguese sides. They're not super-heavyweights historically and yet their current squad puts them on a par with any side in world football.
So the door is open. After reaching the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Euros along with reaching the semis in Russia, can they overcome the weight of both history and expectation and charge their way through it this time?
To hit No.1 in the rankings, the Belgians have obviously been doing lots of winning. They scored more goals (40) than any other team during qualification and also conceded just three.
Having strolled to the finals, getting out of a modest group featuring Denmark, Russia and Finland looks a virtual certainty and it's just 4/5 they do it as Group B winners which looks a good option for accas. If further confidence was needed, they won England's group at the last World Cup with a maximum nine points.
There is a caveat though as Denmark and Russia will have home advantage against them as the Group B fixtures are shared between Copenhagen and Saint Petersburg. The fact that Belgium won all five of their away games in qualifying suggests that won't be a problem, especially as they have recent wins away to both Russia (4-1 in qualifying) and Denmark (2-0 in the Nations League).
After that (checks 'When Saturday Comes' wallchart), finishing top of Group B would give them a last-16 game against one of the third-placed teams. Navigate that and, if the betting/form worked out, it's a quarter-final against Italy in Munich and a semi-final against either Germany or France at Wembley.
Goals come naturally
Those 40 goals in qualifying were shared among 15 different players which is some stat. No prizes for guessing their leading marksman: Romelu Lukaku with seven. Eden Hazard banked five, Kevin De Bruyne and Michy Batshuayi four apiece and Christian Benteke three. Leicester's FA Cup final hero, Youri Tielemans, netted twice, as did his Foxes team-mate Timothy Castagne along with Toby Alderweireld, Nacer Chadli and Dries Mertens.
Belgium have taken flight since switching to a 3-4-3 formation during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and, in a dream scenario for backers, they dominate games and De Bruyne and co. set up numerous chances for Lukaku to finish off. The Inter Milan striker bagged 23 in Serie A this season (second only to Cristiano Ronaldo) and is a huge hero in Milan after powering the Nerazzurri to the title.
Lukaku is a strong candidate for top Belgium scorer at 11/10, the Golden Boot at 6/1 and perhaps for Player of the Tournament at 25/1. Also check him out in the Winner/Top Goalscorer Double market: Lukaku to win the Golden Boot and Belgium to be crowned champions is also 25s.
Back Lukaku to win the Golden Boot and Belgium to win the Euros @ 25/1
Player of the Tournament tends to go to famous players, with Zinedine Zidane, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Antoine Griezmann winning four of the last five. The first three played for the tournament's winning side while Griezmann's France lost in the final so the recipe seems to be a top star on a team which reaches the final. De Bruyne, although likely to miss the opener through injury, is 9/1 and would surely be a big runner if Belgium went all the way.
The big mystery is what part Eden Hazard will play. A 25/1 shot for Player of the Tournament, he's hardly featured for Real Madrid this season due to injury and has only won two caps for his country since 2019.
Will dominate early games and can go deep
Style-wise, Belgium will hog possession in the early games and also have most of the ball in the crunch matches later on too. They're a great watch and romantics without allegiance will surely be cheering on the Red Devils. Assessing their progression, the 7/5 to reach the semis looks fair while runners-up at 15/2 is the bet for those who think this side is always destined to always come up short. Reasons why that might happen would include the loss of Axel Witsel in central midfield and an ageing defence which the best teams could pick off although goalkeeper Thibault Courtois is a super last line of defence.
Going forward they have few peers though and certainly have a look at them to be the tournament's leading scorers at 11/2. Belgium won that market in the 2018 World Cup after blasting in 16 goals.
Back Belgium to be leading scorers at Euro 2020 @ 6/1