During his own heyday donning the iconic Newcastle United shirt, Philippe Albert became a cult hero amongst the fans at St James Park, especially when he went on surging runs and temporarily ignored his defensive responsibilities. Nobody will ever forget when he chipped Peter Schmeichel from a distance, which became the highlight of a memorable 5-0 win against Manchester United.
As part of a team that finished second in the Premier League twice and runners-up in the FA Cup twice, Albert came agonisingly close to helping Newcastle win silverware. He was part of an entertaining side that played wonderful football, thrilling anyone who watched the Magpies through the mid to late 1990s.
Unfortunately for Albert, his national team never quite reached the same heights. He made 41 appearances during an era when Belgium were still international minnows. That has all changed thanks to the current generation of star players, even if they are still regarded as underdogs in the latest Belgium v Italy betting markets, ahead of their Euro 2020 quarter-final clash.
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) July 12, 2018
The Italians are considered as 13/10 favourites to win the tie within 90 minutes, without the need for extra-time or penalties, while Belgium’s odds have lengthened at 12/5 due to the absence of two key players. Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne are both set to miss out after they both sustained injuries in the Round of 16 win against Portugal.
Belgian boss Roberto Martinez lamented losing such important components, admitting it’s fifty-fifty that either will be fit, should Belgium get past Italy and reach the semi-finals. The older of the Hazard brothers could see his role covered by younger sibling Thorgan, although filling the creative gap left by De Bruyne will be more difficult to fill.
By comparison, aside from the possible absence of veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini, the Italians will take on the Belgians with a clean bill of health. Under the leadership of manager Roberto Mancini, they have now gone 31 international matches without defeat, which includes a run of 12 consecutive wins.
Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard are OUT of Belgium’s quarterfinal against Italy—but manager Roberto Martinez says both could return if Belgium progress 🇧🇪 pic.twitter.com/6makcrofQr
— B/R Football (@brfootball) June 28, 2021
For this reason, accompanied by the overall quality of their play at Euro 2020, Italy is now being considered a genuine contender to win the tournament. Of course, former Newcastle hero Albert will be hoping his Belgian compatriots can prevent that from happening. He has been offering insights to media in his country, during the course of the tournament.
Albert correctly predicted the defensive trio that Belgium would deploy against Portugal, which successfully kept Cristiano Ronaldo at bay in the Round of 16, keeping a clean sheet against the reigning Euro 2016 champions. In fact, he was also spot on calling the entire starting eleven Martinez ultimately chose.
While there aren’t any direct links between Belgium and Newcastle United these days, for the sake of our lasting memories and fondness towards Albert, let’s hope his country can keep defying the odds at Euro 2020. He would have relished being part of this thrilling team and the 53-year-old continues enjoying their progress as a pundit on Belgian TV.