Portugal coach Fernando Santos started the mind games ahead of their clash with Belgium a day early by insisting he is “firmly convinced” the defending champions will kick Belgium, the world’s No. 1 side, out of Euro 2020 in the last-16 showdown on Sunday.
The two meet in Seville on Sunday as we get down to the real nitty-gritty of who will emerge as champions this time around.
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While Belgium benefited from an extra two days of rest after cruising to Group B, Portugal slugged to third place in their tough draw behind France and Germany — the latter of whom humbled them with a convincing win.
However, a defiant Santos was reading a different script. “I look at the team as whole and try to find the opposition’s flaws,” he said. “Teams like Belgium and Portugal don’t have many. We know our opponent is capable and very competent but I’m firmly convinced we’re going to be better than they are.”
One bonus for Portugal is their star man Cristiano Ronaldo, who is the top scorer in the tournament after he netted five times in Group F and is now tied for Ali Daei’s all-time record for international goals — that is a man on a mission. However, Belgium are also scoring for fun and Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne, and the Hazard brothers look on the mood. It all sets us up for a cracker of a game.
“We had a very, very strong group, so we know we can score and create chances. We just need to keep doing it,” said Santos. “When you find a team that’s as strong defensively as up front then Belgium have very a strong chance of winning, but we want to be as strong as we can be.”
Midfielder Joao Moutinho underlined the threat of De Bruyne, with the Manchester City star making his first start in Belgium’s 2-0 win over Finland following his recovery from a facial injury suffered in the Champions League final. “Belgium are not just De Bruyne, but of course he’s an amazing player. If we give him enough space and time to think and to play, he’s even more dangerous,” said Moutinho, who plays for Wolves in the Premier League.
“Belgium have a very strong team. If we give them too much time and space they’ll play their game and it’ll make our job even harder.”