Belgium don’t have a cakewalk on their hands to reach the last four of Nations League A here, as they travel to Lucerne to take on the always awkward Switzerland. With Iceland out of the running and already relegated to League B, this final Group 2 game becomes something of a winner-takes-all affair. Granted, the winner won’t take all if Switzerland win by a single goal but concede two or more, but that’s a technicality that we won’t go into here. Essentially, Belgium have their fate in their own hands but know that they still need to show up here.
Switzerland, for their part, could become one of Europe’s “top four” less than a week after losing 1-0 at home to Qatar. That loss in a friendly will be quickly forgotten, but it should drive away anything resembling complacency, if any existed in the Rossocrociati ranks. Up against a side with the attacking resources of Belgium, the Swiss will need to be on their guard to avoid defeat here.
Switzerland vs Belgium Prediction: Switzerland 1-2 Belgium
Given that Switzerland were knocked out of the World Cup by Sweden, their very presence in the top echelon of the Nations League was a surprise, and the six points they have picked up so far came in two meetings with group whipping boys Iceland (whose honeymoon period may well be at an end). They remain an awkward opponent, imposing in defence, but they lack a top-class finisher and will rely on Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri for attacking guile. They may well score here – defence is not Belgium’s strength – but les Diables Rouges should have too much for them over the 90 minutes.
Our recommended tip: Belgium to win
If a lot of us are honest, we looked at Belgium going into the World Cup and felt that while their attack was excellent, any defence managed by Roberto Martinez would turn to dust when an elite side so much as breathed on it. If those impressions didn’t dissipate when they beat England in the group stages, they were certainly shattered when Brazil were knocked out in the quarter-finals. This is a solid Belgian side that has grown together, and earned the right to be taken seriously – as nuggety an opponent as Switzerland are, Betway’s 6/5 (2.20) odds on the visitors to win seem generous.
Outside of a friendly on the eve of Euro 2016, the only recent meeting between these sides came last month in Brussels, in this very competition. Romelu Lukaku, whose domestic form has wobbled this season, had a decent night in national colours as he put Belgium ahead just before the hour mark. On 76 minutes, Switzerland were back in it through substitute striker Mario Gavranovic, only for Lukaku to pinch the winning goal six minutes from time after fastening on to a Dries Mertens pass. The closeness of the game, and the fact that all three goals came after or around the hour mark, reflects how well Belgium will still have to play here.
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Players to watch: Xherdan Shaqiri & Dries Mertens
Switzerland are perhaps the best example of what can happen if a team of limited ability plays solidly for each other as a collective. Few of their players are brilliant. The jury’s still out on “good” for more than a couple, but they work as a machine. Of course, you won’t get anywhere without a bit of flair, and that’s where Shaqiri comes in. Brilliant with the ball at his feet, he’s Switzerland’s game-breaker and if they’re to get the win they need here, he’ll need to be in full flow.
With Belgium, it’s the opposite story – look anywhere in the team and there’s a player who is, or could be, at one of Europe’s elite sides. Mertens has been the X factor at Napoli for a few seasons now, creating chances for his strike partners and scoring plenty himself, and while he may not even start here (Belgium really are well-stocked for attacking talent), he’s likely to make a difference if and when he gets on. Mertens may not be the first name people mention when they talk about this squad, but he’s a vital part of it.