Soccer-Belgium’s Mertens admires Italy but prepares for his downfall


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium’s Dries Mertens looks forward to Friday’s European Championship quarter-final against Italy, where he spent the last eight years of his club career.

Mertens broke Diego Maradona’s scoring record in Napoli last year and has played with many Italians he will face in Munich.

“It’s special to play against Italy because I’ve lived there for eight years and I know all of their players,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Mertens is a big fan of the Italian national team, among the most impressive at Euro 2020 so far.

“This generation can play football. They have won a long series of matches and conceded few goals. They have a good mix of youth and experience,” he said.

“A lot of people didn’t expect them to play attacking football, but they were very confident in this approach. It’s nice to see them at work.”

Italy will also be the favorites, Mertens said despite Belgium being ranked first by FIFA.

Italy are on a 31-game unbeaten streak, which dates back to a 1-0 loss to Portugal in the Nations League in September 2018. The goal conceded to Austria in their 2-1 win in the round of 16 Saturday’s final was the first in 12 matches.

Belgium, too, has big dreams for its “golden generation”, still looking for a first major tournament trophy.

“This is not the last chance because I believe in the future of Belgian football, but I am the first to say that we must seize this opportunity,” said Mertens.

(Written by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; edited by Andrew Cawthorne)


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