Strong Belgium hoping to hit the ground running against Italy

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots has admitted his side have no alternative but to hit the ground running in Euro 2016 when they take on Italy in their opening Group E encounter on Monday.

"A win would give us a lot of confidence while a defeat would shake everyone up a bit," Wilmots told reporters Sunday. "They're perhaps the most prestigious opponents (to meet) in the first game where typically you improve as you go along but we have to be in top form from the outset."

Belgium, ranked second in the world, are widely considered to be among the favourites for the tournament and begin against Italy in Lyon, in a group which also includes Sweden and Ireland.

And Wilmots warned that the Italians should not be underestimated despite many experts saying they were not at their best.

"I think they're even more dangerous when they've got their backs against the wall," Wilmots said. "They've got a top quality league, they've top quality players and they've got a coach (Antonio Conte) who will make them warriors."

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and captain Eden Hazard are in the rare situation of having the chance to impress their future club boss in person on the international stage as Conte will take over at Chelsea next season.

"I'm very happy to play against my future manager and show him everything I'm capable of producing," said attacking midfielder Hazard, who added he wanted Conte to know he could "rely" on him next season.

Hazard acknowledged that "this was a moment everyone has been waiting for," as the star-studded Belgians search for a first international title but he also attempted to keep the mood light.

"I think there are two or three sides better equipped than we are," he said. "We're a little bit of an outsider, we haven't put any pressure on ourselves ... (but) we're clearly going to try to play the best tournament possible."

Last update: Sun, 12/06/2016 - 19:03

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