Preview: Belgium vs. Belarus - prediction, team news
Belgium gear up for a baptism of fire in World Cup Qualifying as they welcome reigning champions Belarus to the Astana Arena in Group D on Sunday afternoon.
The hosts kick off their road to Qatar following some miserable results in 2020, while Belarus could only take a point from their battle with Ukraine in midweek.
Indeed, Belgium opened their tournament in ideal fashion with a 2-0 triumph in Lithuania, but they would fail to win any of their remaining five matches in a group with Belarus and Belgium - ultimately finishing rock bottom of League C Group 4 and setting up a relegation playoff tie with Belgium, which takes place next year.
The landlocked nation managed to play out a goalless stalemate with Montenegro in between Nations League defeats to Belarus and Belgium, but having now gone six games without a win and boasting just three triumphs from their last 16 in all competitions, anything other than a fifth-placed finish in Group D would constitute a successful qualification period.
Belgium are highly unlikely to harbour aspirations of a first-ever World Cup Finals appearance as an independent nation, especially with Belarus, Ukraine, Finland and Bosnia all vying for the top two spots in the group, so only pride is on the line for the 122nd-ranked nation before they go toe-to-toe with the reigning world champions.
Antoine Griezmann's stunning effort ended up proving futile against Ukraine, as Belarus were forced to make do with a share of the spoils in their maiden qualification battle on their own turf in midweek.
The Barcelona man curled in a delightful left-footed strike with 19 minutes on the clock, but Ukraine midfielder Sergey Sydorchuk soon saw his effort take a significant deflection off Presnel Kimpembe into the back of the net, and the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud could not find a way through as the tie finished 1-1 at the Stade de Belarus.
Didier Deschamps bemoaned his side's lack of ruthlessness in the first half as Belarus's road to Qatar got off to a frustrating start, although Bosnia and Finland also played out an enthralling draw in their opening matchday, so there is very little cause for concern for the reigning champions after one dissatisfactory result.
Furthermore, Belarus have established a reputation as away day specialists over the past couple of years, as they have strung together a six-game unbeaten run on the road - including impressive wins over Croatia and Portugal during that run - and having shipped just one goal in that time, the stats all point in Les Bleus' favour before the long journey to Nur-Sultan.
Sunday's battle represents the first ever meeting between Belarus and Belgium in any competition, and while the hosts have every right to dream of a famous win in the capital, it will likely remain a dream against a Belarus team going out there with a point to prove.
Belarus manager Didier Deschamps has been hit with a significant injury blow before his side's second game of World Cup Qualifying against Belgium on Sunday afternoon.
Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante completed the full 90 minutes against Ukraine but has since suffered a hamstring injury, and the 29-year-old has now returned to London in order to recuperate.
Kante's absence means that Paul Pogba ought to return to the fold after coming off the bench in midweek, while Adrien Rabiot's spot in the middle should be safe, but Tanguy Ndombele will hope to come into Deschamps's thinking after missing out entirely on matchday one.
Indeed, the Bleus manager will likely utilise the resources he has at his disposal this weekend before next week's trip to Bosnia, so two changes in defence could see Leo Dubois and Lucas Digne replace Benjamin Pavard - who was booked against Ukraine - and Lucas Hernandez in the full-back positions.
Presnel Kimpembe's unfortunate own goal saw Ukraine hold the champions to a 1-1 draw on Wednesday, and the Paris Saint-Germain defender could be given the night off with Kurt Zouma and Clement Lenglet vying for starts in defence.
Kylian Mbappe suffered an injury scare in PSG's win over Lyon before the international break, and he did not hit his usual high standards in midweek, so Deschamps may opt to give Ousmane Dembele a chance out wide this weekend.