15:00 BST, Saturday 14th July, St Petersburg Stadium (St Petersburg, Russia), ITV
It’s the game that no team wants to be a part of. The third place play-off pits the losers of the two semi-finals against one another to determine who finishes on the ‘podium’ of the world stage.
After falling at the final hurdle and being dumped from the competition, most teams would prefer to just pack their bags and head home. Nonetheless, St Petersburg has one more match to stage, and it’s the second edition of Belgium vs England at this World Cup after their reserves faced off in Group G.
Last Time Out
France 1-0 Belgium
Roberto Martinez’s men were given their marching orders in Russia after a narrow defeat against a French side who are now surely odds-on favourites to go all the way.
A close encounter was expected, with both sides capable of hurting each other in attack. Belgium brilliantly dispatched Brazil at the quarter-final stage, and France navigated their way past a stubborn Uruguay side.
Both sides began cautiously, all too aware of the threat their opponents carried in advanced areas of the pitch. After the first period ended goalless, France’s Samuel Umtiti climbed highest to head in Antoine Griezmann’s corner to break the deadlock shortly after the break.
After going behind, Belgium struggled to break down a well organised French defence, with Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne restricted to having to play from deeper areas. Didier Deschamps’ side held on to seal a place in their third World Cup Final.
Croatia 2-1 England [A.E.T.]
For the third game in a row, Croatia needed extra time to progress. Fatigue and sluggishness was expected from the Croatians as the game went on, but the Balkan nation only got stronger as the game went on.
England headed into their first semi-final since 1990 after beating Sweden in the last eight and were riding a wave of unexpected progress and success.
The Three Lions started the brighter of the two sides, and were ahead inside five minutes after a brilliantly struck free-kick by Kieran Trippier, joining Sir Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker as the Englishman to score in a World Cup semi-final. England continued to press for the rest of the half, though couldn’t add an important second.
Midway through the second period, the much-improved Croatians were level through a well-placed Ivan Perisic effort from close range. 90 minutes were up with the scores level, but Croatia were sent into their first ever final when a defensive lapse allowed Mario Mandzukic to finish beyond Jordan Pickford.
Roberto Martinez will probably rotate his squad for this one, with a set-up similar to the first game with England in the group stage.
Adnan Januzaj, who scored in the first meeting, will hope for a recall, while Thorgan Hazard will look for a spot on the left side of midfield. Thomas Meunier is available again after missing the semi-final through suspension.
England boss Gareth Southgate may give one of his reserve goalkeepers a run out, with both Jack Butland and Nick Pope waiting in the wings.
Fabian Delph and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will push for recalls to the starting XI, as will Trent Alexander-Arnold and Danny Rose in the wing-back positions as England make wholesale changes.
Jordan Henderson, Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier are suffering most from fatgue, whilst there’s the case of the Golden Boot, with Harry Kane likely keen to play to ensure he brings home the award.
Key Battle: Mousa Dembele (Belgium) vs Eric Dier (England)
With the significance of this fixture relatively low on the football spectrum, it is tough to predict which players both managers will select. There is little on the line, so there may be a raft of changes as both sides may look to utilise players on the periphery.
Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier may well feature on Saturday, and the Tottenham Hotspur teammates would face-off in the midfield.
The first game between these two sides was won by the Belgians, who enjoyed more control of the midfield area and didn’t allow England much time on the ball in dangerous areas. Dier has only made the one start so far in Russia, but will hope to get another 90 minutes under his belt before the Three Lions head home.
The issue of motivation
No player or team will relish playing in this glorified friendly. All eyes are on the final on Sunday, exactly where both these teams wish they were. The winners and losers of this fixture are seldom remembered, and both sides will know that.
However, Roberto Martinez and Gareth Southgate are passionate, professional managers, and neither will fancy losing two games in a row. As difficult and as undesirable a position it is to be in, both must do their bit to make sure their side doesn’t go home with a whimper.
Mass change for both teams?
Strangely, these two sides meet for the second time in a game with little meaning. The first fixture, at the end of the group stages – though the final group table was still to be decided – saw these two meet with both already guaranteed progress to the last-16.
As expected, both sides changed their starting XIs en masse. Those on the fringes of the team were given a game to keep the stronger, more senior players fresh.
It would be a surprise to see many of the semi-final starters in the XI of either team on Saturday, having played two full, high-octane matches in the previous days. The big squads are there to be used, and it’s likely we’ll see that on Saturday.
The race for the Golden Boot
Harry Kane (6) currently leads the race for the World Cup Golden Boot, with Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku trailing two goals behind his Premier League rival. Both are hungry, determined players and the Golden Boot is a means of ending their individual tournaments on a high note. Hence, a strong desire to play in the third play play-off.
If neither play, it’s likely the award will end up in Kane’s hands – as Kylian Mbappe (3) would have to score a hat-trick in the final to catch the Tottenham striker.
However, in a potentially open game consisting of rotated XIs, there’s a chance that Lukaku gets on the scoresheet if starting, which puts Kane at a disadvantage if he’s left on the bench, or out of the squad entirely.
Whether Southgate and Martinez pick their star strikers remains to be seen, despite the competition for the Golden Boot.
Prediction: Belgium 3-2 England
With little significance, it may give both managers a chance to change set-up and tactics slightly, which may allow for an open game. Many players are familiar with one another, with the Premier League heavily represented on both sides.
Though neither side would prefer not to lose two in a row, both managers should allow their sides to play will freedom and without pressure, which should give provide an entertaining spectacle. 3-2.
Listen to the RealSport football writers review the World Cup semi-finals and preview the Sunday’s final in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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