De Bruyne and Hazard injury doubts ahead of Belgium vs taly clash

By Samindra Kunti in Munich

July 2 – Belgian coach Roberto Martinez will take a “last-minute decision’ over the fitness of both his lodestars Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard for the blockbuster Euro 2020 quarter-final against Italy, the country he labeled “statistically the best team”.

Against Portugal in the round of 16, Bruyne limped off following a knock from Joao Palinha and Hazard suffered another muscle problem and neither player trained on Thursday in Tubize with the team.

“We all know that we are fighting against time, but we’re going to take until the last minute to make the decision,” said Martinez at a news conference, indicating that Hazard’s soft tissue injury would rule him out in all likelihood.

The Spaniard will need all his best players to take on Italy, high on victory and confident of victory. The Italians have gone 31 matches unbeaten and will, like Belgium, be bidding to become the first to win 15 consecutive European Championship matches since the start of qualification. They impressed in the group phase with a perfect record, but labored to get past Austria 2-1 in the extra time.

Predictably, Martinez lavished his opponents with praise. “The Italian side is made of fantastic individuals,” said Belgium’s head coach. “They play an incredible unselfish role. They all press, they defend as a unit. This team has kept the resoluteness of Italian teams in major tournaments. This Italy has not lost the DNA of the good Italian national teams. Statically it’s the best team – 14 straight victories, but this is a record only Germany achieved before so it must be a good parameter of the team we face.”

But he can draw strength from the 2013 FA Cup final when he and Roberto Mancini led Manchester City with Wigan. He said: “Obviously it was very special for Wigan Athletic and everyone connected, but it shows you that over 90 minutes in a cup, anything can happen.”

The Italy coach offered more pleasantries. “Belgium has a superb team,” said Mancini. “The Belgian have been world number one on the FIFA ranking for years . I have great respect for them, but we will play our own game.”

He did want both De Bruyne and Hazard to make the Belgian starting eleven, but perhaps Italy’s biggest worry will be Romelu Lukaku, the striker who helped Inter Milan to their first Scudetto in 11 years. Veteran defender Chiellini said: “We have got a lot of respect for Lukaku because he had a great season for Inter and all campaign long, we have witnessed just what a match-winner and a big player he’s become.”

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