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Can England finish top of their group?

Last updated: June 27, 2018 by Leon Marshal

Game details

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Kick-off: Monday, 19:00pm
Venue: Kaliningrad Stadium
Coverage: ITV 1
Home Team Form: WDWWWW
Away Team Form: WDWWWW
Last Meeting: England 1 – 0 Belgium
Competition: FIFA World Cup

England were cautiously optimistic going into the World Cup. Gareth Southgate – a man who enjoys studying history and knows his fair share of footballing pain – had instilled into his youthful squad a relaxed yet quietly positive attitude. Unlike the so-called Golden age of 2006, this team don’t feel any of the same unbearable pressure, and as a result, have played far better. Yet, after finding a winner against Tunisia and demolishing Panama, the mood has changed. Something new lingers in the air. Perhaps it’s the free-flowing play that led to Lingard’s curled outfield goal, or the way Kane scored seemingly by accident, but England no longer look dull and grim-faced. They look fun. They score 6 goals in one game.

England no longer have to think about getting out of the group, and perhaps winning their first knockout game since 2006. Now they can legitimately think about mounting a serious campaign. Is this the year football finally comes home?

Perhaps some temperance is in order. Tunisia’s only method of play was fouling and winning fouls, and Panama were a bunch of Sunday league journeymen only happy to be here. England’s upcoming match against the far better Belgium – with only positions in the group to play for – should help to gauge the mood accordingly. A win could instill the serious belief that England are good enough to get to the final. A loss on the other hand, would give England some perspective and the opportunity to re-strategise. Neither is fatal; but a win is obviously much better.

Southgate faces a few difficult choices. Does he rest his best players, such as Kane, Lingard and Trippier, to make them fresh for the knockout stages, or does he try and win the game, knowing that momentum, and a positive vibe back home, could make all the difference? Is it worth experimenting this late in a campaign? We haven’t seen the best of Rashford or Sterling or Alli yet, all quality players when they are on top form. Giving them a run-around could be helpful to Southgate when picking his team against either Japan, Senegal or Colombia.

Martinez, the Belgium manager, has already stated he is looking to make major changes. He can take comfort from the Croatia team. They made nine changes against Iceland and still managed to win the game 2-1. Also eyeing their last 16 match beyond the group, Martinez is giving off the impression that he might rest up to 10 players. One thing is for sure: De Bruyne, Munier and Vertonghen will not play, as they are already on yellow cards. He will not want to risk needless suspensions.

France vs Denmark was a good case study for this match. Both teams had little to play for, knowing that they were almost guaranteed to go through the group. The result was the dullest game of the tournament so far and its first 0-0 draw. With both teams knowing that all that separates them from each other is one yellow card – England have two, Belgium have three – this could be a similarly tight and cagey affair with neither team wanting to commit too much ahead of the last 16. This could change if Colombia finish second in their group, as they are the only team that look likely to beat England or Belgium. If things stand as they are, expect a low-scoring game with England holding just a slight edge.

Team News

Lukaku skipped training with Belgium on Tuesday, raising speculation that he might not be playing.

According to Gary Cahill, England will only think of victory against Belgium, stating that he wants to “Build momentum, to keep that good feeling going.”

Harry Kane is currently leading the Golden Boot with five goals. According to reports, he is desperate to play.

Phil Jones acknowledges the game will have a Premier League vibe considering that 12 of Belgium’s squad all play in the Premier League: “We know what we’re up against… We play against them near enough every week”

Expected Line-Ups:

England (5-3-2): Pickford; Trippier, Cahill, Maguire, Walker, Rose; Henderson, Loftus-Cheek, Lingard; Rashford, Kane
Subs: Butland, Delph, Jones, Alexander-Arnold, Dier, Sterling, Vardy
Not available:
Belgium (4-3-3): Courtois; Alderweireld, Boyata, Kompany, Vermaelen; T Hazard, Fellaini, Dembélé; Batshuayi, Mertens, E Hazard
Subs: Mignolet, De Bruyne, Lukaku, Vertonghen, Tielemans, Chadli, Meunier
Not available:

Head to Head

Last Competitive Meeting Between The Sides
Date Game Result Round First Goal-scorer
02/06/2012 England 1 – 0 Belgium International Friendly Welbeck 36′
10/10/1999 England 2 – 1 Belgium International Friendly Shearer 6′
29/05/1998 Belgium 0(4) – 0(3) England King Hassan II Cup
27/06/1990 England 1 – 0 Belgium FIFA World Cup Platt 119′
12/06/1980 Belgium 1 – 1 England European Cup Wilkins 25′

Conclusion & Betting Tips

Given the caginess we expect to see in the game, it should be a low-scoring, perhaps even boring game. Yet, if Martinez’s suggestions turn out to be true, the English side will be far stronger than the Belgian one, leading me to believe that the Three Lions can pip them at the post. This is why we recommend to back England to win and under 2.5 goals at Betway for a pretty good 4/1.