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Belgium vs Portugal preview: All eyes on the battle of the heavyweights

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Round of 16: Belgium vs Portugal, kick-off 8pm (UK time)

Reigning champions Portugal take on Belgium in Seville with one of the heavyweights set to make an early exit from Euro 2020.

The Belgians topped their group without needing to get out of second gear but Cristiano Ronaldo and Co had to reach the last 16 the hard way.

Fernando Santos’ men were pushed to their limit in the group of death and were ultimately relieved to reach the knockout stage by finishing in third place.

Story so far

Belgium kicked off their campaign with a 3-0 win over Russia, courtesy of Romelu Lukaku bullying the hosts and bagging a brace.

But things were not as straightforward against Denmark, who took a surprise lead inside two minutes and looked in complete control during the first half.

That was before Roberto Martinez’s side turned up the heat after the break.

Belgium’s second-half performance showed why they are among the favourites and it was a sneak peek at what they are capable of. 

Kevin De Bruyne, Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Youri Tielemans all combined to turn the game around and secure a 2-1 victory.

The Red Devils then ran out 2-0 winners against Finland to make it three wins from three.

In contrast, Portugal have been one of the surprise teams at the European Championship — for all the wrong reasons.

They are renowned for being defensively resolute yet Germany hit them for four and France scored twice.

A 3-0 win over Hungary in their opening fixture flattered them before they were outclassed by the Germans and had to come from behind to draw with France.

Youri the man

Youri Tielemans has hit top form at this summer's European Championship
Youri Tielemans has hit top form at this summer’s European Championship

As expected, everyone has been talking about Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne — all are potential match-winners on their day.

But Tielemans is another player who deserves to be placed in the same category.

The midfielder has quietly gone about his business in the middle third for Martinez’s outfit, dictating play like a seasoned maestro.

Portugal struggled to keep tabs on Paul Pogba when he was pulling the strings from deep in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw. And if they stand off the Leicester man in a similar way, they will be in serious trouble.

Return of Renato

Renato Sanches was imperious against France and looks back to his best
Renato Sanches was imperious against France and looks back to his best

Santos switched things up in the centre of the park against France in a bid to avoid defeat.

Bruno Fernandes and William Carvalho were benched and Renato Sanches was brought in alongside Joao Moutinho.

Sanches put in a monumental performance, reminding everyone why he was once one of the most sought-after players in Europe.

On the ball, the 23-year-old was a class above. Without it, he was everywhere.

Rumoured to be a target for Liverpool, clubs will be banging down Lille’s door if he puts in another man-of-the-match showing against Belgium.

Midfield conundrum

The Selecao boss now has something of a selection headache.

Heading into the tournament, he had favoured a midfield three of Danilo Pereira, Fernandes and Carvalho.

But that trio struggled against Hungary and Germany, with Fernandes looking like a shadow of his Manchester United self.

Santos made the bold decision to switch it around against France and it paid off. So will Portugal line up the same way for tonight’s encounter?

There are plenty of factors to consider. For starters, Fernandes has the ability to create something out of nothing — an invaluable trait in knockout games.

But Santos will be also aware you cannot have any passengers in these ties and the former Sporting man has fallen into that category during the Euros.

Stick or twist? It will be a big decision for Portugal’s manager.

Battle of the forwards

Two of the world's top forwards go head-to-head at the Estadio La Cartuja this evening
Two of the world’s top forwards go head-to-head at the Estadio La Cartuja this evening

Whichever star striker comes out on top in this clash will likely fire his team to victory.

Lukaku looked unstoppable for Inter Milan last season and he has carried that form into Euro 2020.

He has made difficult finishes appear remarkably straightforward and teams struggled to stop him throughout the group stage.

The 28-year-old will fancy his chances against a Portugal defence that could not contain Kai Havertz or Karim Benzema.

But Ronaldo has been just as impressive and is on a mission to become the leading goalscorer in international football history.

He has been ruthless so far and has claimed five goals in three outings at the tournament.

The Selecao have not been able to create many openings and Ronaldo has had to make the most of his limited opportunities.

He will not expect a feast of chances against a resilient Belgium side. 

But if one comes his way, a record-breaking goal is surely on the cards as he looks to surpass Ali Daei’s total of 109.

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