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World Cup Group G: England, Belgium, Kane, Lukaku, time to settle this

Thursday 28th June 2018

The two European sides have all the pressure off them coming into the final game, having already secured a place in the last 16. This battle is about who'll clinch top spot in group G.

Belgium and England were expected to cruise through the group and both have met expectations with ease. The Three Lions had to wait to snatch victory over Tunisia, while Belgium were frustrated in the first half by Panama. However, both came through those games and produced two of the most impressive displays so far in the competition; albeit against weak opposition.

The pair are deadlocked at the top of the table having scored and conceded the same amount of goals. If they draw with each other it will be decided on fair play records, England currently lead having had two yellow cards to Belgium’s three. If that finished identically, lots would be drawn to see who comes first and who comes second.

On paper at least, the winner of the group will face the harder draw, particularly in the quarter-final where the likely opponents would be Brazil. Although that's the case, I fully expect both teams to go for the victory, as topping the group is a huge momentum-builder.

The two sides have met a total of 21 times with England winning 15 of them. Twice they have met in World Cup's; in 1954 when it finished 4-4, and in 1990 when David Platt scored the only goal in the last minute of extra-time to send England to the quarter-finals.

Football famously came home for England as they won the World Cup in 1966 at Wembley. Since then, 1990 is the closest they have come to being champions for a second time; losing to Germany on penalties in the semi-finals.

Belgium have played in the finals on 12 occasions. Their best run was in 1986 when they finished fourth. However, the current golden age have huge expectations of getting beyond the last eight. A feat they achieved four years ago.

The game takes place in the Kaliningrad Stadium; the final match of the tournament at the 35,000-seater arena.

England

FIFA Ranking: 12th 

Panama were poor on Sunday, but England will be delighted with the 6-1 win. None more so than Harry Kane, who leads the golden boot race with five goals.

For England, it's unclear if they will rest some of their stars, or go all-out to keep momentum for the knockout rounds. Kane, though, has indicated his desire to play and manager Gareth Southgate has also hinted he won’t be making wholesale changes.

Dele Alli missed the game with Panama due to a knock. The chances are, the Tottenham Hotspur man won't be brought back for this match.

In both games to date, England have started with a 3-5-2 formation; which is something that the Three Lions have never really deployed, before Southgate's arrival, anyway. Even if changes are made, I expect England to stick with the same formation, but it may be an opportunity to give a couple of players on the fringes important game time. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Kyle Walker both have picked up yellow cards so far so they could be potential players that may be benched; purely for protection.

Belgium

FIFA Ranking: 3rd 

Like their opponents, Belgium have looked fantastic going forward, with Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku running the show. The latter becoming his countries top scorer in major championships.

However, unlike Southgate, manager Robert Martinez has made it clear he is going to make a host of changes for the clash with his eyes all on a last 16 game.

He has ruled out playing any of the three players who have booked so far; Kevin De Bruyne, Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Meunier.

Lukaku went off with an injury in the second half of the 5-2 win over Tunisia, he has had a scan on his ankle that has shown no damage, but following this, it is likely he won’t be involved.  Dries Mertens and Hazard also picked up minor knocks, but are fit if required. Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen have come through training sessions since the last game, but like those above, I'd be surprised to see them named as starters.

Prediction

Both teams will be delighted to have already booked their place in the knockout phase. How they approach this game will determine who wins the group. From how both managers have been speaking, Belgium may change virtually their whole line-up while I expect England to only make three or four switches at most.

Which approach is best for the two sides going forwards is open for debate, but if England stick with most of their first-choice players, I think they will be too strong for a changed Belgium line-up. England 3-1.

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Simon Hahn

Lifelong sufferer following Darlington FC from League Two to the Northern League. Freelance Sports and data journalist. Living for 3pm on Saturday.


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