Early reckoning for top-ranked Belgium
Top-ranked Belgium and its golden generation faces an early reckoning at the European Championship against determined holder Portugal, which clawed its way into the last 16, on Sunday.
The contrast in progress could not have been greater with Belgium masterfully overcoming adversity to win all its group games, while a pugnacious Portugal saw its fortunes ebb and flow.
An extra day of rest was Belgium’s reward for topping Group B, having seen the talismanic trio of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel all return from injury.
It could be counter argued that Portugal is better prepared, having had to scrap against the likes of Germany and France.
Portugal has its own talisman in Cristiano Ronaldo, who needs one more goal to become the all-time top scorer in international soccer.
The juxtaposition between the match-winning capabilities of Ronaldo and Belgium’s own prolific marksman Romelu Lukaku adds intrigue to the game.
With 63 goals for his country, Lukaku, who is eight years younger than Ronaldo, might one day challenge the Portugal captain’s record.
Meanwhile in Budapest, the Netherlands come up against an old nemesis in the Czech Republic.
The Dutch topped Group C with a perfect record, yet they will be wary of what lies ahead. It was a mistake they made in Euro 2016 qualification, losing both home and away to the Czechs and failing to make the tournament in France.
Czech coach Jaroslav Silhavy has an energetic side, which presses high and looks for ball turnovers and counter-attack opportunities.
In Patrik Schick it possess an in-form striker, with three goals so far.
The Dutch, however, remain favourites with Memphis Depay and Donyel Malen providing an exciting new combination in attack with Wijnaldum and Frenkie de Jong running the midfield.
Defender Matthijs de Ligt is over a groin injury and is adequately making up for the absence of Virgil van Dijk in the back four.
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