The last game before Euro 2012 starts next week looks as if it could turn into pep rally than a competitive game.
Itâ€™s probably fair to say that Belgian football has been in the doldrums for the last decade: the Red Devils havenâ€™t qualified for a major tournament for over a decade and are currently one place above Wales in the UEFA Rankings. They missed out on the playoffs by two points, despite managing to score eight more goals than Turkey in their group but they looked up against it when they only drew 1-1 in Azerbaijan a year ago and basically had to beat Germany in Dusseldorf to stand a chance of getting to the playoffs. They were 3-0 down before the hour: that was that.
However â€“ like the Norwegians last week â€“ there are plenty of familiar names in the current Belgian squad. Vincent Kompany was captain of the Manchester City team that won the Premier League last season, Thomas Vermaelen is the heart of Arsenalâ€™s defence and (as I have to explain to various family members when Everton are on telly) Marouane Fellaini is the tall bloke with the big hair.
Iâ€™ve deliberately left one name out, because those of us watching tomorrow night may have our lives transformed forever if Eden Hazard plays. Even though he has yet to kick a ball in anger for Chelsea, heâ€™s obviously the best player in the universe right now and fans across the world waited with baited breath last week to see which English club heâ€™d chose to play for. Thatâ€™s presumably what heâ€™d like us to think, although Iâ€™m reserving judgement to see how he does against Stoke at The Britannia Stadium before using any superlatives to describe him.
Regardless of Eden Hazard, history is on our side in this game. Belgium have never beaten us in England: the only time weâ€™ve not beaten them at home in five previous encounters was also the last time they played at Wembley in October 1964. We last played against them at Sunderland in October 1999, when goals from current TV talking heads Jamie Redknapp and Alan Shearer ensured a 2-1 victory but the game was notable for Kevin Keegan giving Frank Lampard his international debut.
England are favourites to win the game, which kicks off at 5:15pm although â€˜coverageâ€™ starts at 4:30pm on ITV. That usually means bland interviews in poorly lit changing rooms, plenty of adverts encouraging you to buy beer/televisions/party food and at least one awful pun from whoever has been rounded up to provide punditry – although I don’t think they’re likely to use ‘the Belgians have surrendered again’, it’ll probably be something based on the EU.
Iâ€™ll be back with a quick roundup after the game finishes, but youâ€™re in for a treat next week â€“ a substantial preview piece and something a little different that I think youâ€™ll enjoy.
Have a good long weekend and God Save The Queen.
The new England manager is in place, the team has been chosen. At last it’s game on for England and all the other European teams. Click here to check the Betting odds for Euro 2012.