Belgium v Panama
Live on BBC One. Kick-off Monday 18th June 4:00pm
IT feels like a long-time that we've been talking about Belgium's “Golden Generation” and how they've so far failed to deliver at major tournaments, but will this be the year they live up to lofty expectations?
It's worth remembering that the last World Cup in Brazil was Belgium's first appearance at a major tournament since 2002. And, their apperance in the European Championships 2 years earlier (their first since 1984) was down to the fact that they qualified as co-hosts. So this is a country that has had to rebuild it's reputation on the International stage and perhaps too much has been expected too soon from this talented crop of players.
15 of Belgium's 2018 World Cup squad also traveled to Brazil, and they'll be much better for the tournament experience gained in 2014 with many now reaching their footballing prime. Can they go far? Yes, but they'll need to start living up to the reputaions they've built at club level to better their quarter-final appearances of World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016.
There have been plenty of surprise results at the tournament so far but Belgium shouldn't have any problems disposing of a Panama side who'll find things tough in Group G.
Only Saudi Arabia and South Korea, of the teams that qualified, are ranked lower than the Panamanians who are 55th in the world according to FIFA's system (Russia are 70th but didn't play any competitive matches in the last two years), so on paper this looks like a mis-match.
Following the disappointments suffered by the likes of Germany and Brazil so far, expectations may have been tempered a little back home, but Belgium will be aming to put down a marker in their first outing. I expect both Belgium and England will record two wins each against the other to sides in the group so it may come down to goal difference as to who tops Group G and I'm hoping that will be reflected in Belgiums attitude in this one.
We've seen enough of the likes of Hazard, Lukaku and De Bruyne in the Premier League to know that there's goals in the Belgians, and with a back line that boasts Courtois in goals, protected by Vertonghen, Alderweireld and Vermaelen they'll be confident in keeping things tight at the other end.
Romelu Lukaku has scored 14 goals in his last 13 appearances since the start of 2017 and in a match where it's hard to find value in the outcome I'm looking to him for betting opportunities.
- Romelu Lukaku Over 2.5 shots on target 5/4 Bet365
- Romelu Lukaku Man Of the Match 5/1 Bet365
- Romelu Lukaku 5/2 Bet365