Coming into Euro 2020, in 2021, two teams will variable golden generations appeared the most often among teams rated as tournament favourites: France and Belgium. Perhaps influenced by the Premier League talent available and the team surpassing expectations at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, England were also rated alongside these two.
However, when comparing the teams, experience, depth, and style of play deployed by all three teams, Belgium and France stand alone as the best on paper. The ability of these teams goes far beyond UEFA Euro 2020, though, as next year, they’ll almost certainly be among the most feared teams at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
So, what makes the bordering nations such mighty units, and how did the two compare coming into this prestigious summer tournament?
Worthy of the favourite tags
In both of their first games of UEFA Euro 2020, France and Belgium laid down the gauntlet but in very different ways. Belgium made the most of an unambitious Russian side, prying them apart to win 3-0, with Romelu Lukaku scoring his 22nd goal in his last 19 games. Most impressive was that they looked so strong without world-class playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, the skilful Eden Hazard, or midfield anchor Axel Witsel in the starting XI.
France came up against an ever-resilient Germany. Two offside calls stopped Le Bleus from getting a 3-0 win of their own, but at the heart of their triumph was their fitness, defending, and domineering midfield corps. Germany had the majority of the ball, particularly in the second half, but France continued to repel them and launch several counter-attacks.
While only the first games of the tournament, they perfectly showcased just how much talent is available to both teams as well as their resolve. Of course, being the World Cup champions, France walked into Euro 2020 as the favourites, and while Belgium are up there, 61/10 in the Euro 2020 odds certainly underrates the team. This becomes more apparent with Belgium winning all ten of their qualifying games, while France dropped points in two of them.
France vs Belgium: who would win?
Many people who used the pre-tournament simulator in 2021 would have had France and Belgium winning their groups and continuing to win until the semi-finals, which could see the two face each other. It’s tough to split the two, but the fact that 27 percent of those simulations saw France win the tournament and only 12 per cent for Belgium shows the way that most would lean.
Both are very strong across their starting XIs and on their benches, but Belgium’s more apparent weakness is in the centre-back position. Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, and Dedryck Boyata don’t lend themselves as the strongest or fastest-moving defensive line. That said, Jason Denayer offers a faster option, the wing-backs get back well, there are several defence-minded central midfielders, and they’re protecting one of the highest-rated goalkeepers in the world: Thibaut Courtois.
France’s only potential weakness, on paper, is veteran goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. He’s still a top-class goalie, but for Tottenham Hotspur, he’s shown signs of being a bit slow to react to more simple plays. That said, he’s got a towering midfield capable of winning any aerial battle, the immaculate N’Golo Kante protecting the defence, and a prestigious group of defenders that opponents have to try to get past first.
Going head-to-head, the major problem would arise from Belgium’s rather slow centre-backs attempting to halt any counter-attack that France springs. While the movement and the power of Romelu Lukaku is a lot for any set of centre-backs to handle, you’d fancy France cutting off his service and launching Kylian Mbappé in return.
In the 2018 World Cup, France won 1-0, but overall, Belgium have 30 wins, 19 draws, and 25 losses to the French. So, perhaps Euro 2020 will reward viewers with a clash of the titans before a third, higher-stakes clash at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.