World Cup 3rd place match: England and Belgium hook up again; does it mean anything this time?
It's not coming home.
England's World Cup dreams were smashed by Mario Mandzukic's brilliant goal that sent Croatia to their first World Cup final. On the other hand, Roberto Martinez's Belgium lost to France one-nil. Les Bleus' quality showed more vividly on the day.
England and Belgium have given a decent fight in the tournament and are looking forward to meeting again for a third-place encounter. A supposed battle of two 'Golden Generations', this is the game neither wanted to play in the group stage. Martinez and Gareth Southgate rang the changes for their Group G dead rubber. It's also the match the two didn't want to play this weekend, preferring to be in the final. It didn't happen for either, however.
The Three Lions have met Belgium 22 times. England have won 15 and lost only three. The most recent defeat was that battle of the benches in the group stage. Adnan Janujaz's fantastic curler near the hour mark gave us a bright moment in an otherwise dreary 90 minutes.
This time, both camps are expected to finish the tournament on a high by playing their best XI at Saint-Petersburg Stadium.
Gareth Southgate is proving the best manager England has seen in recent times. His 3-5-2 carried England to the semi-finals. With such an inexperienced squad, he has done wonders. Expect the boss to stick with his formation and strategy to the end. He has not changed it since the warm-up games and it has brought results.
Harry Kane is the top scorer in the tournament with six goals. It will be difficult for his remaining competitors to steal the Golden Boot away at the last minute. Each needs multiple goals to make up ground.
Just 24, Kane can break Miroslav Klose's 16-goal record at World Cups if he keeps on in this manner. Kieran Trippier averages around three successful crosses per 90- second best to Aaron Mooy in this tournament. He has been given the green light to play despite his groin injury, but it would be understandable if Southgate held him back out of respect for his contribution and club obligations.
Other fringe players can be given a chance after England played extra 30 minutes in the semis. Don't expect Harry Maguire, John Stones or Kyle Walker to miss out, but Marcus Rashford could receive his first start, replacing Raheem Sterling. Danny Rose is also expected to start for Ashley Young. Jordan Henderson is a doubt. Eric Dier may start as the holding midfielder. Trent Alexander-Arnold will likely start for Trippier. The Liverpool youngster gave a solid performance against Belgium in the group stage.
Before their loss against Brazil, Belgium were on a 24-match unbeaten streak. They've been very optimistic in front of goal scoring at least twice in six out of their last eight matches. Martinez's 3-4-3 has produced.
Striker Romelu Lukaku has scored four goals so far in the tournament A brace will draw him level with Harry Kane, providing the England captain fails to pad his total. Eden Hazard was in the mix for the Golden Ball until Belgium went down to France.
Martinez should start a midfield of Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini behind Kevin de Bruyne, as he did against Brazil. The trio provides excellent balance. Both Witsel and Fellaini can defend, pick the ball from the defence and pass it to de Bruyne, to let him do the creative work. Thomas Meunier will start the game after missing out versus France due to suspension.
Martinez proved himself with the victory over Brazil. The former Everton manager must now carry forward his success and deliver silverware to this Belgian Golden Generation.
Many believe this match is relatively meaningless, but medalling for your country at the World Cup makes more sense than winning nothing.
I'm in for a 2-0 victory to Belgium. They have the edge in attack. Like Croatia, this midfield overmatches England's. Southgate may want to consider a double pivot against more difficult opponents, rather than sticking with a single holding mid. The Red Devils also had an extra day to recover without having to wear their bodies down in extra time.