Photos by Ian Kington and Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia – England manager Gareth Southgate admits the World Cup 3rd-place playoff is a game that no team wants to play, but the match against Belgium on Saturday, July 14, offers the chance to finish the tournament on a winning note.
A gut-wrenching 2-1 loss to Croatia after extra-time denied England a shot at a second World Cup triumph, instead setting up a consolation game against familiar foe Belgium.
Roberto Martinez's side, who were beaten 1-0 by France in the last 4, topped Group G ahead of England after an Adnan Januzaj goal settled a low-key encounter in Kaliningrad.
That game saw both coaches heavily rotate their teams, and a similar scenario is likely in Saint Petersburg, with several fringe players pushing for a start.
"The honest thing is, it's not a game any team wants to play in," said Southgate, whose side has drawn praise for the way they have briefly united a country bitterly divided over Brexit.
However, he insisted that will not alter England's approach as they look to achieve their best finish since they won the competition in 1966.
"We'll want to give a performance of huge pride, there's no question about that," said Southgate.
Last training session of this World Cup. Time for one final push tomorrow and finish on a high! #eng #ThreeLions #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/iwS2rrMiW3 — Harry Kane (@HKane) July 13, 2018
"Every time we wear the shirt of our national team we want to play with pride, we want to play well and we want to win," said Southgate.
Reserve goalkeepers Jack Butland and Nick Pope are the only two members of England's 23-man squad yet to feature in Russia, as Southgate stuck with the same line-up throughout the knockout phase.
For Belgium and their "golden generation," many of the key players should return for the 2022 World Cup, even if Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen will probably be gone by then.
Martinez, who signed an extension until after Euro 2020 in May, can guide Belgium to the nation's best result at the World Cup. They finished 4th in 1986.
"We want to finish on a high and these players deserve to finish on a high," said the Spaniard.
"You need to try to see the opportunity of finishing third at the World Cup. That doesn't happen too often, so we need to understand that this is an important game.
"But I would accept it is very difficult when you had the ambition of getting to the final. It's very difficult to prepare for the next game."
R. Martínez : "Every @BelgianFootball fan deserves that winning feeling at the end of the tournament" #REDTOGETHER #WorldCup #BELENG — Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) July 13, 2018
European teams have claimed 3rd place in the past 9 World Cups. The Netherlands beat Brazil 3-0 in 2014 after the hosts were embarrassed 7-1 by Germany in the semifinals.
England skipper Harry Kane is the tournament's top scorer on 6 goals, while Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku trails by two in the race for the Golden Boot.
With one more goal Kane would become the highest scorer at the competition since 2002, when Ronaldo struck 8 times, including twice in the final, as Brazil clinched a record 5th title.
The Tottenham forward would be just the second England player to scoop the award, after Gary Lineker was the top scorer in 1986. – Rappler.com