The side currently ranked second in the world, Belgium, begin their highly-anticipated Euro 2016 campaign against the runners-up in 2012, Italy, in Lyon on Monday night.
Despite not qualifying for the previous three European Championships, Marc Wilmots’ men are one of the favourites to win this summer’s tournament in France, and it isn’t hard to see why when you look at the strength of their squad, which has been labelled as the “golden generation”.
Although they are without captain Vincent Kompany through injury, the Red Devils still have stars throughout their team, including Premier League players such as Tottenham trio Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele, Chelsea duo Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard, as well as the impressive Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City.
In fact, Belgium were ranked as the best team in the world for five months from November 2015, and cruised through their qualification group, booking their spot in France with a game to spare.
Meanwhile, despite finishing as the runners-up four years ago after defeat to Spain, Italy come into this competition as the seventh-favourites to be crowned as champions, despite finishing top of their qualification group, winning seven and drawing three of their 10 fixtures.
While their defence remains strong, there are concerns in attack for Antonio Conte, who will link up as Chelsea’s new manager following the conclusion of the tournament.
Graziano Pelle of Southampton is perhaps their main man in attack, and he was the Azzurri’s top goalscorer with three goals in qualifying, as they netted just 16 times.
Their form coming into the clash has cast some doubt on their chances too – they were winless in four before triumphing in their two warm-up matches prior to the tournament, against Scotland and Finland.
The two nations last met in November 2015 in an international friendly, when Belgium ran out 3-1 winners with their goals coming from Vertonghen, De Bruyne and Michy Batshuayi.
Although they are one of the favourites, Wilmots’ side don’t have a great record at European Championship finals – they have lost five of their last seven matches.
As for the Italians, this year’s participation continues their strong streak of qualifying for every single European Championship finals since they failed to qualify in 1992, and they have drawn more matches (15) than any other team in the history of the tournament.
One of Belgium’s star man, Eden Hazard, limped out of training after being trodden on but he is expected to be fit for the match in Lyon.
Meanwhile, Conte could choose to start with Antonio Candreva and Stephen El-Shaarawy as attacking wing-backs, but he will be without Riccardo Montolivo, Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti, who were all omitted from the final squad because of injury.
FIFA World Ranking: Belgium – 2nd; Italy – 12th
Best European Championship Finish: Belgium – Runners-up (1980); Italy – Winners (1968)
Previous Meeting: Belgium 3-1 Italy (November 13, 2015 – Friendly)
Form: Belgium – WWLWDW; Italy – LDDLWW
Key Men: Belgium – Eden Hazard ; Italy – Graziano Pelle
Shoot Says: Belgium 1-0 Italy