World Cup 2018, England vs Belgium: Tricky battle awaits Group G top dogs

first_imgOn the outset, England vs Belgium looks like a big-team stalemate that bears no consequence on the World Cup as much but in reality it is far from it.Gareth Southgate has to choose between giving Harry Kane a chance at the Golden Boot and resting him for the knockout. Belgium coach Roberto Martinez faces a similar decision with Romelu Lukaku.Harry Kane, after his hat-trick against Panama, is now the leading scorer of the World Cup with five goals while Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo are just behind him with four goals.With the battle from the knockouts expected to get much tougher and more and more uncertainty creeping in, England vs Belgium might actually be the chance for both of them to tighten their stranglehold on the top prize.2018 FIFA WORLD CUP: FULL COVERAGETwo of the #WorldCup top scorers could face each other tonight in Kaliningrad…Who has impressed you more at this tournament so far? #ENGBEL pic.twitter.com/IJRscY8f2JFIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) June 28, 2018″He’s sitting really proudly at the top. He’s gone ahead of some major, major names in English football history in terms of World Cup goals,” Southgate said. “That should make him incredibly proud, but he also knows the team is the most important thing and we have to make decisions that are right for the team.”Lukaku, meanwhile, did not train with Belgium on Tuesday and looks likely to be rested. Lukaku, playmaker Eden Hazard and winger Dries Mertens are all nursing injuries after Belgium’s 5-2 victory over Panama.advertisementWORLD CUP 2018 – FIXTURES | POINTS TABLE FIFA World Cup 2018: Eden Hazard (left) and Romelu Lukaku have been at the heart of Belgium’s success so far. (Reuters Photo)While this is one side of the story, the other is that they have both qualified and with Colombia, Japan and Senegal battling it out in Group H, it does not really matter who out of England and Belgium top Group G.Topping the group would hardly make a difference for either of England or Belgium and give them any advantage, considering all the contesting teams of Group H are at more or less the same level.That is exactly why it is widely believed that both teams will rest their key players for their final group game at Kaliningrad and they may give a chance to the underused squad members.”For our country, that would be a very difficult mindset to have,” Southgate said of the possibility of taking it easy. “We want to win every game of football we go into. I don’t know how we would go into a game not wanting to win and not wanting to play well.”Also read – World Cup 2018: Why England and Belgium might want to lose on ThursdayBelgium defender Toby Alderweireld echoed that sentiment.”We are going to try to win the game, because as a footballer you want to win every game,” he said.England knows from bitter experience that there is no such thing as an easy draw at major tournaments after its embarrassing defeat by Iceland at the 2016 European Championship in France.That said, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has already signaled he will be shuffling his team on Thursday.Also read – Jesse Lingard perfects shoot dance after scoring against Panama”The reality is that we are qualified and in a tournament like the World Cup, you’re only as good as the 23 players (in the squad). There will be opportunities for other players,” he said.Alderweireld, for one, doesn’t feel like sitting out a match.”Rest? I think footballers always want to play. Everybody wants to play,” he said. “I feel good. There are enough days between matches. I feel ready if the trainer needs me.”Who will top the group?Marouane Fellaini expects an even contest when Belgium meet England in #ENGBELWho do you think will take top spot in Group G? #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/ekH576qfhKFIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) June 28, 2018England and Belgium have identical records and goal tallies heading into their group decider, so a draw in Kaliningrad would have FIFA consulting its tiebreaker rules to determine the group winner. That means it could come down to the teams’ disciplinary records and if that doesn’t separate them, drawing lots.The Group G winner next plays the runner-up from Group H, where three teams are still in contention Japan, Senegal and Colombia. The Group G runner-up plays the winner of Group H.Also read – Harry Kane first Englishman to score World Cup hat-trick since 1986advertisementFamiliar foesEngland and Belgium players will encounter plenty of familiar faces. Assuming they play, the match will pit Manchester City teammates Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones against one another, while Kane could have to beat Tottenham defenders Jan Vertonghen and Alderweireld if he is to add to his tournament-leading goal tally. Stones also used to play with Lukaku at Everton.Also read – World Cup 2018: Lukaku demands more from Belgium after Tunisia winReturn from injury for Vincent Kompany?Another Manchester City star, Belgium center back Vincent Kompany, looks to be returning to fitness. He trained with the team Monday and Tuesday, although it remains unclear if he is ready to take on England in a match Belgium doesn’t have to win.Also read – World Cup 2018: Harry Kane wants England to believe after reaching last 16Kompany has not played since injuring his groin on June 2 in a pre-tournament friendly against Portugal in Brussels.PANAMA, TUNISIA EYE CHANCES TO IMPROVE WORLD CUP LEGACIESPanama defender Felipe Baloy has one more goal before his international career ends this year at age 37.After scoring his country’s first goal at its first World Cup , Baloy now would like to experience Panama’s first victory on international soccer’s greatest stage. Standing in the way is Tunisia, which will be seeking its first World Cup victory since 1978 when the sides meet to close out Group G play on Thursday night.”When we came to this World Cup, we knew we were going to have three really hard matches against Belgium, England and Tunisia,” Baloy said before training Tuesday. “We knew the first two were difficult. The last match against England, we couldn’t achieve a victory, but we achieved our first goal.Also read – Watch: Panama commentators in tears after World Cup debut”That’s not to say we’re going to beat Tunisia, but we hope to have a victory to give as a gift to our people in Panama so they can celebrate and be proud of us.”Baloy also would like as many fans as possible to watch Panama’s pursuit of history, rather than the other Group G finale between England and Belgium at the same time.”It’s difficult to ask fans to watch our match instead of England and Belgium because they have players who are world class,” Baloy said.Panama and Tunisia are both eliminated, while England and Belgium have advanced to the round of 16.Still, Baloy invited soccer fans worldwide “to watch our game, because it will be a beautiful game and we are very proud to play our last game at the World Cup.”Indeed, low-stakes group finales between teams who’ve failed to qualify for the knockout stage have a way of producing plenty of highlights. The pressure is off to defend robustly. Rather, players can feel relaxed to explore the bounds of their abilities in an effort to make their mark on the tournament.There hasn’t been a draw in such a game since the tournament expanded to 32 teams in 1998, a trend extended when Saudi Arabia pulled out a 2-1 victory over Egypt with an injury-time goal Monday.advertisement(With AP inputs)last_img

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