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Belgium appear to have a fairly straight forward group and it’s Denmark that pose the biggest threat in Group B, with Finland seemingly set to challenge Russia for third.
However, Russia did far better than many expected at the last World Cup, where they enjoyed home advantage, so they’ll hope to take advantage of this fixture being played in St. Petersburg.
Russia are an impressive W11-D5-L3 over 90 minutes at home since the start of the World Cup, even winning eight of the last 12.
However, aside from their improbable results against Spain and Croatia, beating the former on penalties and losing to the latter by the same method, the only other occasions where they encountered quality sides ended in defeat.
One of those came at the hands of Uruguay, who were comfortably the better team as they ran out 3-0 winners, wile the other saw Belgium thump them 4-1 in qualification for this tournament.
Belgium To Beat Russia
These two sides have faced each other number of times in recent years, in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, a friendly in 2017 and twice during qualification.
These were mostly high-scoring affairs as after Belgium struck late to win 1-0 in the first of these, they drew the friendly 3-3, while Roberto Martinez’s side ran out 3-1 and 4-1 winners home and away respectively in the most recent competitive meetings.
Russia can’t boast the best of form heading into this tournament either. They’re W3-D4-L4 since October 2020, as all three victories came by one-goal margins over Malta, Slovenia and Bulgaria.
This spell also included a demoralizing 5-0 defeat at the hands of Serbia, while they trailed at the break in each of the four defeats.
Belgium have won eight of nine group stage matches across the past two World Cups and Euro 2016, so look a healthy price to take an opening day victory.
Surprisingly though, they only led at the break in one of these games, with Draw/Belgium in the half time/full time market landing on six occasions as each of those were goalless at the break.
That includes their 2014 clash, and despite the way Belgium sauntered to victory in their recent clashes, there’s good reason to think the underdogs can make it to half time unscathed.
Romelu Lukaku To Score Anytime
Belgium have some considerable depth to their squad, but it’s undeniable that the trio of Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard are at the heart of their attacking play. The Inter Milan striker has enjoyed a fine season, but there are doubts surrounding the other two.
Roberto Martinez has already suggested that he won’t be counting on creator in chief De Bruyne for their opening game after the facial injuries sustained in the Champions League final.
Eden Hazard did come on for a cameo in their final warm-up friendly as they beat Croatia 1-0, though it remains to be seen if he’s in the right physical condition to start games after a couple of seasons ravaged by injury.
With those two potentially out for this game, Lukaku appears best placed to get amongst the goalscorers.
In matches where he’s played more than a half for Belgium, he’s bagged 19 goals in 15 appearances since September 2018, finding the net at least once in 13 of these. Meanwhile, for club or country, he’s netted four times in five appearances, with the exception when he only played 45 minutes against Greece.