Belgium v Italy – Stade de Lyon at 20:00 live on BBC1
The Group E big guns clash in round one of the group phase, as Belgium face off against Italy in Lyon on Monday night.
Antonio Conte, is on his way to West London to manage Chelsea after this tournament and he will want to go out on a high, especially with all and sundry essentially giving his Italian side, little chance of progressing deep into this edition of the European Championships.
Marc Wilmots on the other hand, has to deal with the huge expectation on his Belgium side, they are packed with talent but really must reach at least the Semi-Finals here to prove their worth on the international stage. Especially, having underwhelmed everyone in Brazil two years ago, when they were knocked out at the Quarter-Final stage.
Wilmots has seemingly not found the ideal attacking set up to bring out the best of his vast array of creative players and the Belgians also struggle to produce top quality full backs for their defence. This leaves them fielding two players who are really centre backs, sometimes Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, in those wide positions instead.
That is obviously not a great situation for the players or the team and its chances of winning Euro 2016, however if you read my article on the Outright Winners market, you will know that, I have still backed them each way, to lift the trophy.
They simply have too many world class players coming into form and a group that has been together for years & will have learned from their experience in Brazil back in 2014.
But, it could be a very tough start to their quest for glory against the wily, tournament hardened Italians, who in recent years seem to perform better than everyone (apart from them), expect. In Antonio Conte, they certainly have the better manager and his tactics could be the deciding factor in this match.
Group E looks like one of the trickier groups to call with Sweden and the Republic of Ireland making up this section. But, both Belgium and Italy will be confident of picking up maximum points from their other two games, so this could effectively be an early decider for top spot in the group.
Neither of these teams score many goals, despite the Belgians depth of talent in attack, they have not really clicked consistently. However, Italy look woefully short of the creative class we are used to seeing from them in past tournaments.
None of Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne, Graziano Pelle and Stephan El Shaarawy are capable of regular goal scoring at this level. But, at the other end of the pitch their defence (as always) is full of experience and class.
This match should be tight, tense and low scoring, but obviously that fact has not escaped the bookies. They have priced up Under 2.5 Goals at just 1.54 which, is not a price I want to be getting involved with.
Belgium are understandably favourites to win the match at quotes around 2.60, but that is a little on the short side for my liking, especially with Italy undefeated in competitive games under Conte.
Hopefully, Belgium can scrape a win here to get my outright position off to a good start, but I think it will take time to break down the Italians (if they can at all) and so, backing the half time draw makes plenty of appeal at a decent price.
In terms of the Asian Handicap market, the prices dictate that backing Italy +/-0 (DNB) is clearly the best value option. It would be just like the Italians to put in a performance here and upset the favourites on the day.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Italy +/-0 (DNB) at 2.33 and FH Draw at 2.0
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