June 20 – Belgian A-listers Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel will all start against Finland, Belgian coach Roberto Martinez confirmed in a match that his Finnish counterpart Markku Kanerva dubbed “the game of our lives”.
Belgium may have qualified for the knockout phase, but they won’t give Finland a pass in their final group game. The world’s number one team wants to build on the second-half momentum created in their 2-1 victory against Denmark last Thursday when the trio of substitutes transformed Belgium’s fortunes. Martinez’s eleven had fallen behind to a Danish blitz and Yussuf Poulsen’s early goal, but Witsel’s composure in midfield released the Belgian attack and De Bruyne thrived, setting up Thorgan Hazard for the equalizer and netting the winner in the 70th minute.
“It was essential they could be there to finish the game and now I feel Eden, Axel and Kevin will start against Finland because we need to see how they are and how long they can play and it’s an opportunity for us to stretch their match fitness to a maximum level,” said Martinez at a news conference.
The three will seek a routine victory against the Finnish to ensure Belgium finish top of Group B, but Finland head coach Markku Kanerva is intent on making life as difficult as possible for the Belgians after his team’s disappointing 1-0 defeat against Russia. Finland had never qualified for a major tournament prior to Euro 2020, but maintain a chance of processing from the group. They need at least a point on Monday.
“It is in our own hands,” said Kanerva at a news conference, branding the 90 minutes with Belgium “the biggest match in the history of Finnish football.” Kanerva will draw strength from his team’s 2-0 win in a friendly against France. “It is a lifetime opportunity for each of the players to show how good we are,” added full-back Jere Uronen.”
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