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England vs Belgium: World Cup Preview

England vs Belgium: World Cup Preview
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This World Cup is just rocketing past, isn’t it? And turning out to be a bit of a classic. We’ve seen plenty of top drawer goals and silky smooth football, but mostly – so far – it’s been all about the drama. A good deal of that has been VAR-based, admittedly. For real drama though, there’s just something about these third and final round of group matches. Some have been stone cold classics like Argentina vs. Nigeria. Some have been just plain awful like France vs. Denmark. Others have been all over the place like the Spain and Portugal games on Monday night.

Thursday evening sees the final group games as Panama and Tunisia duke it out for third place, while England and Belgium ‘fight’ for the dubious honour of coming top (more on that in a bit). It’s The Three Lions’ first proper test of World Cup 2018 and we’re looking forward to it.

Let’s have a peek at what to expect from the game, eh?

 

England team news

England vs Belgium World Cup Preview
“You!” Yeah, er, play football better. Tell the others too… Y’know. Defend well and score some goals. Cheers.”

Both countries have qualified from Group G and so it looks likely that both will ring the changes for this game. Neither team will really go ‘all out’ for a win here, given that finishing top offers no real benefit other than the idea of momentum. In truth, we’re looking at both managers resting key players, so this could be a bit of a training game effort. With an England XI slightly different from the past two in the tournament.

Expect Pickford to remain in goal. With a back three of Stones, Maguire and Cahill (in for the yellow card risk Walker). Rose should come in for Young, who could cover at right back if Kieran Trippier fails a late fitness test. Or perhaps Gareth Southgate will reward Alexander-Arnold with a start. Dier should come in for Henderson. Loftus-Cheek is also on a yellow and so it appears that Delph will cover in Alli’s continued injury absence. Harry Kane will start, but expect to see him come off around the hour mark, probably for Vardy. While Sterling could be rested for Rashford.

Predicted line-up: Pickford, Maguire, Stones, Cahill, Alexander-Arnold, Rose, Dier, Delph, Lingard, Rashford, Kane.

 

Belgium team news

England vs Belgium World Cup Preview
Romelu Lukaku really likes his teammates.

It could turn out to be pedestrian stuff. Or, given how both sides have attacked this tournament – with strikers keen on the Golden Boot – it could be a cracker. Especially as fringe players will come in and be keen to impress. As for Belgium’s likely starting eleven, it could be even more different to England’s…

“Everyone deserves to play in the World Cup,” that’s what Roberto Martinez said when asked about his starting line-up for Thursday night. Which indicates that he could swap out anywhere up to ten of his eleven. Seemingly aiming for that second spot. Or maybe he really is just that nice…

Lukaku, Hazard and Mertens are carrying minor knocks and bruises and will probably not be risked (poor goal hungry Lukaku…). While the likes of De Bruyne, Meunier and Vertonghen are all on bookings.

Bit of a punt, this. But here’s out predicted starting line-up for them: Courtois, Kompany, Vermaelen, Boyata, Carrasco, Chadli, Tielemans, Dembélé, T Hazard, Januzaj, Batshuayi.

 

Tactics

England vs Belgium World Cup Preview
Don’t fret – we won’t be playing a 3-3-2-1 with two ‘keepers. Hopefully.

If this were a crunch tie, no doubt England would play Dier and Henderson together, anchoring the midfield. But given Belgium’s likely resting of players, it seems there’s a good chance that Southgate will adopt a similar approach to the past two games and try to dominate possession and score from set pieces again. With the same 3-5-2 wing back approach that served them so well in the past two games.

How will Belgium decide to play things? Again, we’re fairly confident they’ll stick with their system. So 3-4-3. Not dissimilar to England, really. How attacking will the sides be? It will depend on the manager’s attitude. Play it safe and avoid defeat? Go Hell for leather and try to win? Or even go deeply tactical and try to finish second? We reckon both dugouts are positive, football-loving sorts and both will go for wins with heavily changed sides playing the same formation the squads are used to.

 

Previous meetings

England vs Belgium World Cup Preview
David Platt. Not the Coronation Street one, the scoring volleys and playing for Sampdoria one.

Nowadays, the little northern European nation of Belgium is considered a footballing heavyweight. But it wasn’t always the case. In fact, of the 21 times they’ve faced the English, they’ve only ever won twice and drawn four times. So that’s a cracking fifteen times that England have beaten The Red Devils.

The last meeting was a 1-0 England victory in a friendly back in 2012. The goal coming courtesy of Danny Welbeck. The most exciting game was a 4-4 draw in the 1950 World Cup and the biggest trouncing came in 1927 when Belgium were humbled 9-1.

The most memorable meeting was the last 16 game between the two en route to England’s memorable semi-final at Italia ’90. A David Platt wonder volley in the dying embers of the game deciding the match.

Here it is:

Not bad, eh? As the kids say now – ‘tekkers‘.

Odds

England vs Belgium World Cup Preview
When was the last time someone under 40 went into an actual bookies…?

Few serious punters will be splashing out, betting high stakes on this game. Kicking off at 7pm in Kaliningrad, it’s a bit of a tricky one to call, given it’s something of a dead rubber.

Results wise, there’s not much in it. Belgium are 7/4, England are 9/5, with the draw 2/1. If you fancy it being a silly goal fest, you can get 6/1 on over 4.5 goals. If first goalscorers appeal more – wait for the team sheets to come out before you lay down any cash. Kane is only 3/1 to open the scoring, with the probably-not-starting Lukaku only 4s. So you may want to look down the betting. John Stones has two in two and is still available at 33/1 to score first and 12s to score at any time. Which is well worth a quid or two, surely.

 

Predictions

England vs Belgium World Cup Preview
“Don’t shine that torch in my face, mate.”

This is a ruddy tricky one, this. We’re sure you agree. How this game goes is likely to be decided less on trying to be smart and finishing second to land a potentially plum draw in the quarter finals and more about which players get on the field. England’s second string is arguably the stronger, so if both managers make wholesale changes, we’d fancy England to nick it.

If both managers field pretty strong elevens, though… It could go either way. We’re going to say a daft 3-2 or 4-3 to England. A game of goals, incidents and poor defending. Here’s hoping, anyway. Let’s just pray it doesn’t turn out like France vs. Denmark and no one trying to score or even break into a sweat.

England v Belgium

Obviously we’ll be showing the game at every Rileys. To book your seat an watch how England progress to the knockout stages, hit that big ol’ graphic up there and and reserve a table for you and your pals…

Steve Charnock A freelance writer who writes news stories, features, articles, reviews and lists. But *always* forgets to write his mum a birthday card. Follow him on Twitter or follow him into the pub and buy him a drink.