Martinez to make late decision on De Bruyne and Hazard for Italy tie

By Sports Desk July 01, 2021

Roberto Martinez will decide on Friday whether Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will play any part in Belgium's Euro 2020 quarter-final tie with Italy.

De Bruyne was forced off early in the second half of Sunday's 1-0 last-16 win over Portugal with an ankle problem, while Hazard damaged his hamstring later in the same game.

Both players have travelled to Munich for Friday's showdown with Italy, though neither took part in Belgium's final training session ahead of the match.

Martinez admitted on Monday it was unlikely either De Bruyne or Hazard would be fully recovered in time, and the Spaniard still remains unsure if either player will make the squad.

"As you know they have not been able to train today," he said at Thursday's pre-match news conference. 

"There is still another 24 hours to go and they are positive they can recover. It is now a race against time to make a decision.

"We won't make a decision until the last minute. At the moment it's impossible to say whether they will get fit."

Asked if he is playing mind games by making Italy guess as to the pair's availability, Martinez said: "We are trying to get them fit. It has nothing to do with games or arrogance.

"We are in tournament mode. If they are not available tomorrow, we hope to have them available later."

Injury-plagued forward Hazard has struggled for fitness over the past couple of seasons and Martinez appeared to suggest the Real Madrid man has less of a chance of being fit.

"For Eden, it's difficult as it's a muscle injury," he said. "For Kevin, it's another type of injury. It's a decision for the medical staff. We will then make a decision when we hear back."

 

The winners of Friday's match at the Allianz Arena will face either Switzerland or Spain for a place in the final.

Italy needed extra time to overcome Austria in the last round, with that 2-1 victory extending the Azzurri's unbeaten run to a new national record of 31 matches.

Roberto Mancini's side have conceded more than once in only one of their last 18 games at major tournaments, conceding just 13 times in total across that sequence.

Martinez got the better of Mancini in the 2013 FA Cup final, with Wigan Athletic stunning Manchester City, but the Spaniard is full of praise for what his opposite number has achieved.

"Italy are a great team," he said. "They press with many players and are very dynamic, with many players able to counter-attack.

"If I have to mention one quality in particular it is the synchrony. That is credit to Mancini and that is why they are unbeaten for so long.

"Italy and Belgium are statistically the best teams in the European Championship, and the teams that have won the most games since qualifying.

"It's a pity we're meeting them already, just like we faced Portugal too early."

Against no side have Belgium played more games at major tournaments without winning than Italy (four, level with France and Germany).

The only European nations Italy have faced more often at the same tournaments without losing, meanwhile, are Germany (nine) and Austria (five).

However, the Red Devils have won seven of their last eight matches at the European Championships – the exception being a 3-1 loss to Wales in the 2016 quarter-finals.

Related items

  • Messi magic 'awful' for Canada, but amazing to witness, says Marsch Messi magic 'awful' for Canada, but amazing to witness, says Marsch

    Lionel Messi continues to amaze Canada head coach Jesse Marsch after inspiring Argentina to victory in the opening game of the Copa America.

    World champions Argentina triumphed 2-0 over Canada in Atlanta, making an impressive start to their title defence in the tournament.

    Messi had a hand in both goals as Julian Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez struck in the second half on Thursday.

    The Martinez goal saw Messi rack up his 17th Copa America assist. Since 2011, he has registered over three times as many goals created as any other player in the competition, with Angel Di Maria and Alexis Sanchez ranking second on five each.

    Messi turns 37 on Monday, and has a stunning 20-year professional career under his belt, but that does not mean he does not continue to stun and surprise his opponents, including Marsch.

    Marsch felt his team did what they could to remain compact, but Messi, who created a game-leading five chances, proved the difference on his record-breaking 35th Copa appearance.

     

    The Canada boss explained the task of having to face Messi was amazing and awful in equal measure, with the forward having a massive impact even though the coach felt his gameplan to try and limit the Argentina star had been implemented reasonably well.

    "Yeah, with Messi we talked a lot about our compactness and then identifying the spaces that he likes to show up in," Marsch said after the game.

    "We talked about not diving in because it's hard to win tackles from him.

    "What happens is if you eliminate yourself or if you start diving in for tackles, he's really good slipping and moving and getting back again and making little final plays.

    "This is what I say about Messi: I have coached against him several times and I feel like we have had a good match plan and we have executed a lot of good things.

    "But he is so good, he is that good that he still makes plays. The two balls he makes on the two goals I think are world class. 

    "Amazing, it's awful. It's amazing."

    Inter Miami star Messi had a game-leading six shots, getting three of them on target, and also led the match for touches in the opponent's box (nine) in an all-action display.

    Despite the challenge of facing Messi, Canada captain Alphonso Davies felt his side should have done more to follow up on a battling first-half performance that meant the game goalless at half-time.

    "We have to change our attitude towards the game," Davies said to TSN.

    "The first half we played well, but in the second half we let every long ball bounce. 

    "It was a disappointing result, we need to look at everything we did wrong in the game and fix it as soon as possible."

    Argentina return to action against Chile on Tuesday, which is also when Canada will hope to pick up their first points of the campaign against Peru.

  • More Copa America records go Messi's way as Argentina pick up where they left off More Copa America records go Messi's way as Argentina pick up where they left off

    Argentina picked up where they left off in the Copa America, with the holders kick-starting their title defence with a strong 2-0 victory over Canada.

    The world champions are expected to progress with ease from Group A, and they made an ideal start in Atlanta on Thursday.

    Julian Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez got the goals, but it was of course Lionel Messi who was the main focus.

    Messi became the record appearance maker in the 108-year history of the Copa America, overtaking Chile great Sergio Livingstone by featuring in his 35th match at the tournament.

    The 36-year-old's superb tournament record stands at 22 wins, 10 draws and three losses. And he has one Copa title – a total he hopes will increase with another trophy on July 14.

    And while he could not get on the scoresheet, Messi, despite playing on a choppy pitch that has drawn the ire of Argentina, was as influential as ever for La Albiceleste.

    He will probably lament some unusually profligate finishing - at least by his high standards - as the reason why he didn't mark his record-setting appearance with a 14th Copa America goal (he is, as it stands, four off the all-time leading goalscorers in the competition, Norberto Mendez and Zizinho).

    Messi had a game-leading six shots, getting three of them on target, with those attempts accumulating an expected goals (xG) value of 0.79 - a total bettered by only his team-mate Martinez (0.8).

    The Inter Miami star led the match for touches in the opponent's box (nine), and big chances (two) in an all-action display.

     

    Canada's goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, who like Messi plays in MLS, was also on form, making six saves.

    But what Messi lacked in his finishing, he made up for in creativity.

    His total of five chances created led the match, and was at least two clear of any other player on the pitch. He was nine ahead of next-best Rodrigo de Paul for passes in the final third, with 27, and attempted six dribbles, albeit only completing one of them.

    It was Messi's pass that released Alexis Mac Allister, who was then wiped out by Crepeau only for Alvarez to tuck home Argentina's 49th-minute opener.

    And it was Messi who put through substitute Martinez to round off the victory late on.

    That was Messi's 17th assist at the Copa America, with his first assist in the competition coming in 2011.

    Since then, he has registered over three times as many assists as any other player in the competition, with Angel Di Maria and Alexis Sanchez ranking second on five each.

    It also saw Messi reach 50 direct goal involvements in official competitions for club and country on U.S. soil (30 goals + 20 assists).

    His figure of seven line-breaking passes, meanwhile, was more than double that of any other player in Thursday's match.

    Argentina can reasonably reflect that they should have scored more, an ominous sign for their upcoming opponents. They had nine big scoring chances (according to Opta's definition) against Canada, the most for La Albiceleste in a single game since 2013, and accumulated 2.98 xG. 

    Messi was at the heart of it all, but it was not a case of him having to do it all on his own.

    De Paul was impressive in midfield, while in Alvarez and Martinez, Messi has an excellent supporting cast for this year's competition.

    At 24 years and 142 days, Alvarez is the youngest player to score in both the World Cup and the Copa America since Jose Maria Gimenez did so for Uruguay in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

    Martinez, meanwhile, has scored in four of the last five matches he has played in the Copa America, striking in this match against Canada to follow up goals against Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia in 2021. The only exception in that run was the final in 2021 against Brazil.

    The Inter striker might have to settle for a back-up role at this tournament, but it's now three goals in his last two matches for his country, and he could be a contender for the Golden Boot.

    Argentina should be confident of a deep run. They should really go all the way.

    They are the best team in the world, after all, and Lionel Scaloni has, by some distance, the best squad in the competition at his disposal, what with Brazil missing stalwarts Casemiro, Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, as well as their talisman Neymar, even if Vinicius Junior is an excellent alternative.

    That being said, this is the first time under their coach that Argentina have won their opening match of a major tournament, having slipped to a 2-0 defeat to Colombia in the 2019 Copa America, drawing 1-1 with Chile in the same competition two years later, and then losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia at the 2022 World Cup.

    This time, they have got off on the right foot. Upcoming matches against Chile and Peru should not prove tough hurdles to navigate, especially not with Messi already clicking through the gears.

  • Italy fortunate to only lose by one, concedes Spalletti Italy fortunate to only lose by one, concedes Spalletti

    Italy boss Luciano Spalletti conceded the Azzurri were never in their Euro 2024 game against Spain and felt the defending champions were fortunate not to lose by more than a one-goal margin.

    Riccardo Calafiori's second-half own goal made the difference as Spain defeated Italy 1-0 in Gelsenkirchen on Thursday.

    The defender became the first Italy player to ever put through his own net in a European Championship match and a poor loss left the Azzurri with work still to do to secure progression from Group B.

    Spain fired off 20 shots to Italy's four, also creating 1.9 expected goals (xG) to the Azzurri's 0.18 and enjoying 57.2 per cent of the possession, with La Roja clinching their place in the knockout rounds.

    Spalletti was honest in his post-match assessment, with a huge clash against Croatia in Leipzig to follow on Monday.

    "It is a result they [Spain] deserved and beyond the one-goal difference," Spalletti told reporters.

    "They deserved to win it and we were never in the game

    "Besides the final 20 minutes of the match we were never able to create situations which would allow us to actually compete against a brand of football of this level.

    "They caused us problems larger than the scoreline suggested, let’s not beat around the bush. 

    "Spain were a team on the night and we were not able to be a team."

    If they are to lift more silverware in Berlin next month, Italy will need a dramatic improvement, as attempting just four shots in the match meant it was their fewest on record (since 1980) in any Euros game.

    By contrast Spain, who were drawn into what many believed to be the toughest group at the tournament, have  made light work of some difficult opponents, thrashing Croatia 3-0 before comfortably overcoming Italy.

    They have clinched top spot in Group B with a game to spare, while Italy are second on three points, two clear of Croatia and Albania going into the final round of games.

    Finding a way to increase his players' energy levels was on Spalletti's mind going into the clash with Zlatko Dalic's side.

    Spalletti added: "Maybe I needed to give them more rest, I probably need to give them more days off.

    "We gave them a day and a half off in terms of rest and we saw that was the right decision in terms of our data.

    "But there was too much of a gulf, we were constantly stretched, we probably didn't recover very well in terms of just how demanding and important the [start of the] tournament was itself, because there was too much of a gulf in terms of sharpness and freshness.

    "You can't necessarily talk about anything else, overall. If you don't have the same stamina as the opposition, obviously you can't do things with the same reactivity, the same speed of reaction."

    If Italy are able to secure second place in Group B, they will face the runners-up in Group A, a position currently held by Switzerland, in the last 16.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.