Belgium live up to tag as Euro 2016 contenders

BRUSSELS • Top-ranked Belgium came from behind to beat Italy 3-1 in an open and entertaining friendly in Brussels on Friday, underlining their status as one of the favourites for next year's Euro 2016.

A largely full-strength Italy took the lead inside three minutes when Belgium goalkeeper Simon Mignolet pulled off a great low save to deny Graziano Pelle. But he could only push the ball to Antonio Candreva for a simple tap-in.

Belgium, in their first game as the leaders in the world rankings, were level 10 minutes later when an unmarked Jan Vertonghen headed in a Kevin de Bruyne corner.

De Bruyne put the hosts ahead in the 74th minute, beating Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who had just parried a shot from substitute Michy Batshuayi.

The latter slammed in a third in the 83rd minute.

Belgium were missing captain Vincent Kompany with a calf injury and began with a largely untested right flank.

Trabzonspor's Luis Pedro Cavanda made his debut at right-back and Atletico Madrid's Yannick Carrasco, with only three caps, played in front of him.

Pelle and Eder were regular threats for Italy and were denied at times by an outstanding Mignolet.

De Bruyne in particular had a fine game for Belgium.

"The spirit of the group is perfect," Belgium manager Marc Wilmots said.

"Collectively, we kept our cool, came back and won."

Friday's victory was only Belgium's fifth against Italy in 21 matches, with Italy having won their 12 previous encounters.

Belgium will get another big examination of how far they have come when they face reigning European champions Spain in Brussels on Tuesday.

"It's important to be aware of our own strength and that we can win a great deal with this generation," Belgium and Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan told Rai Sport before the friendly with the Azzurri.

"We believe in ourselves because we know we're strong, even if there are sides like Germany and Spain who are favourites.

"We can have our say at Euro 2016," he said.

"I believe the Euro 2016 final will be between Belgium and Spain."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 15, 2015, with the headline 'Belgium live up to tag as Euro 2016 contenders'. Print Edition | Subscribe