Belgium v Italy – Preview: Red Devils and Azzurri meet to commemorate Heysel anniversary
Belgium will host Italy in an international friendly on Friday night at the Stade Roi Baudouin in Brussels to mark the 30th anniversary of the Heysel disaster.
The venue was known as the Heysel Stadium from 1946 until 1995 and the stadium became infamous on May 29, 1985 when it hosted the European Cup Final between Juventus and Liverpool. A wall collapsed and 39 fans died, with most of them being Bianconeri supporters.
The Red Devils are currently first in the FIFA Rankings for the first time in their history whereas the Azzurri are now in 13th place. Belgium finished on top of Group B of the Euro 2016 qualifiers with 23 points, having scored 24 goals and conceding just five in 10 games. Italy also finished on top of their qualification group with 24 points and didn’t lose a match in qualifying.
The Azzurri have previously faced off against the Red Devils 20 times in all competitions, having won 13, drawn four, and lost only three. Their last encounter was in Florence in 2008 when the Azzurri won 3-1 thanks to goals from Mauro Camoranesi and a double from Antonio Di Natale. Italy did play in Belgium four years ago in friendly. On that occasion they played against Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland side and ended up losing 2-0.
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots almost has a full strength team to choose from and he has Serie A-based players in his squad like Radja Nainggolan from Roma and Dries Mertens from Napoli. He also has other players with Serie A experience like former Lazio full-back Luis Cavanda and former Torino goalkeeper Jean-Francois Gillet.
Antonio Conte has selected an experimental squad for the latest international break. Stefano Okaka, who currently plays at Belgian giants Anderlecht, is back in the Azzurri squad a year after making his debut and his former Sampdoria teammate Lorenzo De Silvestri is back in the squad after recently recovered from a knee injury.
Other surprises have been the inclusions of AC Milan winger Alessio Cerci and Bologna winger Emanuele Giaccherini, who was one of Conte’s players when he was at Juventus, as well as the exclusions of Sassuolo forward Domenico Berardi and Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne.
Marco Verratti is out with an ankle injury for Italy while Thibaut Courtois is still out for the Belgians with a knee injury and Marouane Fellaini has had to pull out of Belgium squad due to injury.
Form Guide: Belgium (W-W-W-W) Italy (L-W-W-W-W)
Expected Starting Line-Ups
Belgium: Mignolet; Alderweireld, Kompany, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Fellaini, Nainggolan, Witsel; De Bruyne, Benteke, Eden Hazard
Italy: Buffon; De Sciglio, Bonucci, Chiellini, Darmian; Florenzi, Marchisio, Parolo; Candreva, Pelle, Eder