Belgium will travel to Estonia for their next 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier on Friday, as they look to strengthen their spot atop Group H.
The two teams met in November last year, when the Red Devils embarrassed their opponents in Brussels, winning 8-1. Here’s a video the team’s official YouTube account uploaded to commemorate the occasion:
A similar result isn’t expected in Talinn, although Estonia no longer have a realistic chance of qualifying.
Date: Friday, June 9
Time: 7:45 p.m. BST/2:45 p.m. ET
Venue: Albert Le Coq Arena, Talinn
TV Info: ESPN 3 (U.S.), Sky Sports 3 (UK)
Live Stream: WatchESPN, Sky Go
Belgium suffered a setback during their preparations for the friendly against the Czech Republic, as Eden Hazard suffered an injury that ruled him out of any international action. Manager Roberto Martinez adapted his formation as a result, using a classic 3-5-2 with both Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi at striker.
The change worked, as the two made life hard on the Czech defence with their movement and raw strength. The friendly finished 2-1, but Belgium easily could have scored more goals.
Estonia opted against a friendly ahead of the qualifier, meaning they haven’t played a match together since the shock 3-0 win over Croatia in March. The team has earned just four points in Group H, leaving them in fifth place.
They’ve suffered heavy losses in Belgium and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but their home form has been much better. In Talinn, they narrowly lost to Greece, beat Gibraltar and held Cyprus to a draw. Estonia are expected to face Belgium with a very defensive mindset, and the Red Devils can struggle breaking down disciplined defences.
Usually, Belgium rely on the individual brilliance of their stars in such a situation, but with Hazard sidelined and Kevin De Bruyne struggling for form, that might not be a foolproof plan. The latter was at least partly at fault for the Czech Republic’s only goal, when he failed to clear the ball after a dangerous pass from Thibaut Courtois.
Courtois arguably had an even worse outing but should maintain his spot in goal against Estonia. Too often, the Chelsea man has little to do for the Red Devils, and he’s the safest bet to make the two or three key saves the team needs.
Belgium will play host to the Czech Republic on Monday in preparation for their upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Estonia.
The Red Devils are expected to cruise to the finals and have been in fine form throughout qualifying, while the Czech Republic have struggled in their group and sit behind Germany and Northern Ireland in Group C.
With key qualifiers coming up, both teams are expected to rest some of their biggest stars after a long, hard season and instead give some youngsters and fringe players a chance.
To say the Red Devils have lived up to the expectations in qualifying Group H would be an understatement. In five matches, the Belgians have scored a remarkable 22 goals and conceded just twice. The only blip on their resume is a 1-1 draw with second-placed Greece, who trail the leaders by two points.
Estonia bore the brunt of the Belgian attack in their first meeting, conceding eight goals in Brussels. The team commemorated the victory with this aftermovie.