Soccer-Belgium's Mertens admires Italy but plots their downfall

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FILE PHOTO: Euro 2020 - Group B - Belgium v Russia
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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium’s Dries Mertens is looking forward more than most to Friday’s European Championship quarter-final against Italy where he has spent the last eight years of his club career.

Mertens broke Diego Maradona’s goalscoring record at Napoli last year and has played with many of the Italians he will be up against in Munich.

“It is special to play against Italy because I’ve lived there for the last eight years and I know all their players," he told a news conference on Wednesday.

Mertens is a big admirer of Italy's 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 between youth and experience," he said.

"Many people did not expect them to play attacking football, but they have shown great trust in that approach. It's been nice to see them at work."

Italy will also be the favourites, asserted Mertens despite Belgium being top-ranked by FIFA.

Italy are on a 31-match unbeaten run, stretching back to a 1-0 defeat by Portugal in the Nations League in September 2018. The goal conceded to Austria in their 2-1 victory in Saturday's last-16 tie was the first in 12 matches.

Belgium, too, have big dreams for their "golden generation", still in search of a first major tournament trophy.

"It is not the last chance because I believe in the future of the Belgian football, but I’m the first to say that we must seize this opportunity," Mertens said.

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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