MX23RW : Thursday, November 15 14:52:59

Preview: Belgium vs. England - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole provides team news, predicted lineups and a full match preview of England's third-place playoff with Belgium in St Petersburg.

Belgium and England must dust themselves off from the disappointment of semi-final defeat on Saturday when their World Cup campaigns come to a close in the third-place playoff in St Petersburg.

The two sides have already faced off once at this World Cup when Belgium ran out 1-0 winners in their final group game, and a repeat result on Saturday would ensure the Red Devils' best-ever finish to a World Cup.


Belgium

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez and assistant Thierry Henry during the friendly against Costa Rica on June 11, 2018© Reuters

While England may feel a sense of overachievement once their disappointment subsides, for Belgium a third-place playoff match is closer to an underachievement at this World Cup.

There is no doubting the quality that Roberto Martinez has at his disposal - the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku are among the best players in arguably the best league in the world - so they had the tools to go all the way in this competition.

The tag of a 'golden generation' can often prove to be a heavy crown - Belgium need only ask Saturday's opponents for evidence of that - but there were signs at this World Cup that their supremely talented crop of players were beginning to fulfil their potential at international level.

The Red Devils stormed to the top of Group G with a 100% record despite playing a second-string side in their final game against England, then survived a major scare with a stirring comeback from 2-0 down against Japan in the last 16.

It was the quarter-final victory over pre-tournament favourites Brazil which would have really raised belief that they could lay their hands on the trophy for the first time, though, and there is no doubt that they had been the standout team of the tournament until they ran into France in the semi-finals.

The World Cup's highest-scoring team could not find a way past an obstinate French defence on Tuesday night as Samuel Umtiti's headed goal proved to be the difference, with France's tactics that night being labelled as "anti-football" by Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Such a scathing review is perhaps a little harsh on France considering they had 10 more shots than Belgium, but there was very little in the game and if not for a lapse in concentration at a set piece, it could well have been Martinez's side contesting the World Cup final on Sunday afternoon.

There is still plenty to fight for from a Belgian perspective, though; victory over England for the second time in Russia would confirm their best-ever finish at a World Cup, having previously come fourth in the 1986 edition - losing to Argentina in the semi-finals and then France in the third-place playoff.

Whether the difference between finishing third or fourth is important enough for either side to re-motivate themselves after the crushing disappointment of semi-final defeat remains to be seen - this is the one game no player wants to play in, after all - but Belgium will still go into the match as favourites and the idea of making history for the country could be enough to inspire the players one last time.

It is also worth remembering that the Red Devils were on a seven-match winning streak and 24-match unbeaten run prior to their loss to France, and Martinez will be keen to avoid falling to consecutive defeats for the first time as Belgium boss.

Recent form: WWWWWL


England

England manager Gareth Southgate on June 2, 2018© Reuters

England fans will have been left with a feeling of mixed emotions following their semi-final defeat to Croatia on Wednesday night.

On the one hand, the obvious despair at once again falling at the penultimate hurdle - it was England's fourth straight semi-final defeat at a major tournament - is incredibly hard to take, particularly as the draw had opened up so kindly for them.

The common consensus is that England will not get a better chance to win the World Cup in the foreseeable future, with Belgium's second-string side and Colombia the best teams they had come up against prior to the showdown with Croatia.

On the other hand, no-one expected Gareth Southgate's side to make it this far. The third-placed playoff is one of the least desirable matches to be involved in, but had it been offered to England fans before the tournament, you can bet that there would have been plenty who would have taken it.

Southgate has always stressed that this is a team for the future, geared more towards Qatar 2022 than it was towards Russia 2018, so even reaching the semi-finals can be considered a major achievement, and one ahead of time too.

The caveat to that, of course, is that they can expect the other world heavyweights - the likes of Brazil, Germany, Spain, Argentina and Portugal, and even those who did not qualify this year such as Italy and Netherlands - to be stronger in four years' time.

There is no getting away from the fact that failing to reach the final is a missed opportunity, then, but when that regret has drifted away England will be able to look back on a hugely successful campaign - not just on the pitch, but off it as well.

A number of new England heroes have emerged - the likes of Kieran Trippier, Harry Maguire and Jordan Pickford in particular - and for the first time in a long time the whole nation has gathered around the team and focused all of their energy on supporting it, rather than dragging it down.

The reaction of the fans inside the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday said it all as they immediately burst into song after the final whistle, serenading Southgate and his players despite the defeat and some staying inside the ground for more than an hour to give Southgate his own special rendition.

The nature of the defeat to Croatia made it more difficult to take, though. After making a perfect start with Trippier's fifth-minute opener England then squandered chances which could have put the game to bed by half time, and they were duly punished. Croatia surprisingly grew stronger as the match went on and eventually took advantage of tired defending to win in extra time - a result they deserved over the full 120 minutes.

It was perhaps a game too far for England at this stage of their development, but they can look back on a World Cup campaign which has seen them win on penalties for the first time, record their biggest ever World Cup win and score more goals (12) than they have ever managed in a single World Cup before, eclipsing even 1966.

It could still end with their best finish aside from 1966 too, with England having lost their only previous third-place playoff against hosts Italy in 1990.

Saturday's match comes less than three days after their energy-sapping epic against Belgium, though, so do not be surprised to see Southgate make a number of changes to his final starting lineup of an unforgettable World Cup.

Recent form: WWLWWL


Team News

England full-back Kieran Trippier celebrates bringing football one step closer to home with the opening goal in the World Cup semi-final against Croatia on June 11, 2018© Reuters

England were forced to finish the Croatia game with 10 men as Trippier limped off in the closing stages of extra time with a groin injury which is also expected to keep him out of Saturday's game.

Trippier is one of a number of walking wounded likely to be left out at the weekend, with Kyle Walker and Jordan Henderson also needing to come off against Croatia.

All 23 of the squad members will remain in Russia until the team fly out on Sunday, but Southgate is likely to make a lot of changes in order to hand some of his fringe players a further taste of the World Cup.

The likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Danny Welbeck will be hopeful of a runout, while there could also be starts for Jamie Vardy and either Jack Butland or Nick Pope in goal.

Six-goal Harry Kane looked exhausted for much of the match against Croatia and Southgate has a decision to make with the Tottenham Hotspur striker, who will no doubt be desperate to play again in a bid to wrap up the Golden Boot - a race he currently leads by two goals.

Belgium's Lukaku - who is on four goals - looks like the only serious threat to that crown, but he too could be rested if Martinez decides to ring the changes as he did in the group game between the two sides.

The semi-final with France was not quite as attritional as England's, but Martinez could choose to hand some fringe players a chance as well.

Should that be the case then Adnan Januzaj - who scored the only goal of the game when the two sides met earlier in the tournament - could be in line for a start, as could the likes of Dries Mertens, Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Vermaelen.

Full-back Thomas Meunier is back available for the Red Devils, though, having missed the semi-final through suspension.

Belgium possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Boyata; Meunier, Fellaini, Witsel, De Bruyne; Mertens, Batshuayi, Carrasco

England possible starting lineup:
Butland; Jones, Cahill, Maguire; Alexander-Arnold, Dier, Delph, Rose; Loftus-Cheek, Lingard; Vardy


Head To Head

Belgium's victory in the group stages of this year's competition was only their second ever win inside normal time in 22 previous meetings with England, and their first at a World Cup.

The past two World Cup showdowns prior to this summer came in 1954 and 1990, playing out a 4-4 thriller in the former before David Platt's last-gasp acrobatic winner handed England a 1-0 extra-time victory in the latter.

Overall England have won 15 of the 22 meetings, but the two sides have only met twice since the turn of the century.


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We say: Belgium 2-1 England

There are likely to be changes galore, as was the case in the group stages, and the winners may well be determined by which side has recovered from the disappointment of their semi-final defeat the quickest. Belgium have had an extra day of rest and also boast the greater strength in depth, so we're backing them to come out on top.


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Who will win this World Cup third-placed playoff?

Belgium
England
Belgium
82.1%
England
17.9%
Kyle Walker at the England media day on June 5, 2018
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City1210203653132
2Liverpool129302351830
3Chelsea128402781928
4Tottenham HotspurSpurs1290320101027
5Arsenal1273226151124
6Bournemouth126242116520
7Watford126241714320
8Manchester UnitedMan Utd126242021-120
9Everton125431915419
10Leicester CityLeicester125251716117
11Wolverhampton WanderersWolves124441213-116
12Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton124261318-514
13West Ham UnitedWest Ham123361418-412
14Newcastle UnitedNewcastle12237915-69
15Burnley122371225-139
16Crystal Palace12228817-98
17Southampton12156821-138
18Cardiff CityCardiff122281125-148
19Huddersfield TownHuddersfield12147622-167
20Fulham121291131-205

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