Preview: England v. Belgium

It’s the match that neither team wanted to play.  This weekend, England will take the pitch against Belgium.  They will do so, though, a day earlier than many expected earlier this week.

Both sides are laden with talent.  This was likely the last best chance for Belgium’s golden generation.  Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Marouane Fellaini and Dries Martens are all over 30, and none are likely to return for Qatar 2022.  Those players may, however, get one more chance at a European Championship in two years.  This, though, was their best shot at a major title.

In a third place match of a major tournament, disappointment is always shared.  England were hoping to take home their second World Cup title and their first since 1966.  The Three Lions looked well on their way to doing so, but goals by Ivan Perišić and Mario Mandzukic made sure that football would not be coming home.

The match up between the two teams will be their second of this World Cup.  this marks the first time since 2002 that two teams will play twice in the same World Cup.  Turkey and Brazil met twice then.

Belgium beat England 1-0 in the group stage after both teams had already secured their places in the knockout stages.  England manager Gareth Southgate had made several changes to his side for that match in an effort to rest top players.  Belgium’s win gave them the group.

In spite of the disappointment for Belgium’s golden generation, the match is still important for the small country.  A third place finish would best Belgium’s best ever fourth place from 1986.  Belgium lost 4-2 to France in that third place match.  A win would also solidify the history made with Belgium’s historic win over Brazil.

Both team’s top scorers have gone goalless in their past three matches.  Harry Kane looks set to win the Golden Boot, but Romelu Lukaku may have other ideas.  Southgate appears likely to make several changes, especially with his team on just two days rest.  Roberto Martinez’s side will likely look very similar to the way it did against France.

Prediction

Belgium have a chance to make history, even if it’s not the history they wanted, with their best ever finish.  They also come in on an extra day of rest against an England team that’s playing on two days rest after an exhausting and deflating 120 minute defeat in the semifinal.  Even more so than usual in a third place match, it will be clear that only one team wants to be there.  Belgium will punish England for mental lapses resulting from physical and emotional exhaustion.  Lukaku will pull even with Harry Kane for the Golden Boot.  Belgium 3 England 0

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