If you didn’t know any better, it would be quite easy to mistake Belgium’s clash with Italy at Euro 2016 as a knockout-round fixture towards the sharp end of the tournament. As it is, the match is nothing more than the two sides’ opener.
This is a meeting of football’s two more revered nations, with Belgium currently ranked second in the world by FIFA and Italy a team steeped in history.
While this appears a gladiatorial encounter on the surface though, in actuality it’s a battle between teams in contrasting situations.
Belgium are a unit on the rise, buoyed by a 2014 World Cup that saw them breeze through qualification, then their group, and knockout the USA in the last 16. Only eventual runners-up Argentina were able to stop their progress in Brazil, as the Red Devils ran out of steam.
Taking that momentum into these European Championships, Belgium’s Golden Generation again look poised for a deep run at a major tournament.
Conversely, Italy are in something of a rebuild.
Familiar faces like Gianluigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi are still around, but they are ageing.
A raft of influential midfielders, from elder statesman Andrea Pirlo, through to the energetic Claudio Marchisio and young shining light Marco Verratti, are missing either through injury or non-selection.
As a result, the Azzurri’s squad looks a tad more workmanlike than the glamourous names that have decorated it in years gone by.
According to the betting, it’s the Belgians that are best placed to triumph. Ladbrokes make Marc Wilmots’ men 31/20 to win the game, with Antonio Conte’s Italy at 21/10 and the draw available at the same price.
The winner will likely hold the keys to Group E, dubbed this tournament’s toughest with the Republic of Ireland and Sweden also in opposition.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.