World Cup Third-Place Play-Off Preview: Belgium v England

Belgium v England
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 13: Players take part in a drill during an England training session during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia at Spartak Zelenogorsk Stadium on July 13, 2018 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

England face up to Belgium once again in this World Cup, this time in the third-place play-off after the two sides played out a meaningless game in their final fixture of the group stage. England will be hoping to end their World Cup campaign on a high after their painful semi-final exit to Croatia. Whatever happens in St Petersburg, though, the England team will return home as heroes.

Belgium v England

The idea of a third-place play-off is not particularly appealing to many, especially those still hurting over England’s exit on Wednesday. However, this game still provides a lot to play for in terms of a successful World Cup for England.

Golden Boot

Harry Kane has reiterated a number of times throughout the tournament that while the Golden Boot would be a nice touch, the World Cup trophy was the one he had his eyes on all along. Now that the latter is out of reach, he can set his sights firmly on the personal accolade of being the tournament’s top scorer.

He currently leads the way with six, two ahead of Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku. Also in the race are French duo Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, both with three. However, they would both need to have the game of their lives in the final, scoring at least a hat-trick, to have any chance of catching England’s leading man.

Go One Better

Aside from their 1966 antics, England’s best finish at a World Cup is fourth, which was achieved in 1990. They lost 2-1 to Italy in the play-off game, as well as, obviously, losing their semi-final to Germany.

This game provides England with an opportunity to at least improve on this record. It’s not the weekend game they wanted to be playing in, but it would at least provide some respite to the fact that they can no longer lift the trophy.

A Chance For Revenge

The group game between England and Belgium was a painful watch. Both sides had qualified from the group stage after dispatching Panama and Tunisia, so took it as an opportunity to give some of their squad players an opportunity of playing in the World Cup.

However, both managers have expressed their desire to win this game, so expect to see the majority of those that played in the semi-final playing in this game, too.

Team News

There are a number of injury doubts for England. Kieran Trippier, a sensation at this tournament, limped off in the closing stages of the Croatia loss and it appears he has not recovered in time to sign off what has been a magnificent month for the Tottenham right-back.

Manchester City’s Kyle Walker and Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson suffered cramp and fatigue during the game and are also doubts for tomorrow. With two defenders potentially out, it could provide an opportunity for Trent Alexander-Arnold to make his second appearance of the tournament, as well as for Phil Jones to come into the side. Henderson’s omission could see Ruben Loftus-Cheek start after an impressive World Cup, but Southgate may play it safe and go for the like-for-like swap by bringing in Eric Dier.

Belgium have no injury concerns for the game. However, their squad depth goes a tad further than England’s, so they could be inclined to rest star man Eden Hazard and bring Dries Mertens back into the fold, while Thomas Meunier is likely to return after being suspended for their semi-final tie with France.

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