#WorldCup Preview: England square up against Belgium in the losers final

The game nobody wants to play. Although there are many pundits, players and coaches stating that the game is a waste of time – the third place still has to be decided and it is still a very important game in the World Cup. Roberto Martinez and Gareth Southgate led their respective teams to the semi-finals of the World Cup but could not take them past that hurdle so they deservedly will lead them in the third-place game today by 3pm.

Gareth Southgate’s England team were perhaps the most underwhelming of all semi-final teams. They took the easier route to the semi-finals and faced seemingly weaker sides. Tunisia, Panama, James-less Colombia, and Sweden. These are teams that traditionally they should overcome. However, when they faced real quality in the semi-final against Croatia they succumbed.

England also overly relied on their dominance in set plays and could not create anything of note in open play. Tournament top goal scorer Harry Kane was pure piss in the knockout stages in my opinion (as a matter of fact in the whole tournament). His six goals have camouflaged an otherwise disappointing showpiece in the World Cup. Kane looks fatter and less mobile. As a target man, he kept on dropping deep to play almost as a midfielder – scenes that remind me of a former England Captian – Wayne Rooney in the latter stages of his career.

The truth is England were never ever good enough to play in the finals. Gareth Southgate is a GOOD manager – the way he handled himself and the team – class personified. However, he is not a GREAT manager. Southgate does not possess the tactical flexibility in games to change systems, instead, he opted to change personalities but maintained the same system when it was obvious it was not working and Croatia had a meal of his errors in the second half. Eric Dier for Jordan Henderson, Marcus Rashford for Raheem Sterling all quite predictable and worse off premeditated subs by Southgate – hence England is playing on Saturday not Sunday.

Roberto Martinez – The Spanish Bob controlling the Belgium team too is just another example of a GOOD manager but not a GREAT one. He obviously has more talent at his disposal than Southgate but he had to go through a tougher route to the semis. He was evidently guilty of overcomplicating things. He rightly changed his system against Brazil and got the accolades for that. He changed it again against France, well it did not work. I personally feel that was down to France’s dominance in their game plan over Martinez’s side.

Martinez gave a slightly good account of himself in this tournament but Belgium I think had a false sense of quality in their ranks after an easy passage in a very easy group and that was the only reason why they made it that far. However, their 3-2 comeback victory against Japan is unarguably one of the very best games in the tournament.

 

So who wins today and becomes bronze medallist in the 2018 FIFA World Cup? Belgium have the better team, better players, slightly better coach. I am going all out for a 3-0 victory for Belgium. Will be quite surprised if England turnup for this game in fairness.

 

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • This is their second meeting at this World Cup following a 1-0 win for Belgium in the group stage.
  • Before that game, England had lost just one of their previous 21 matches against Belgium (W15, D5).
  • They are the first teams to play each other twice at the same World Cup since Turkey played Brazil two times in 2002.

Belgium

  • Belgium have played in this fixture once before and lost 4-2 after extra time against France in 1986.
  • They hold the record for the most knockout games at a World Cup without keeping a single clean sheet (14). No other side has played more than seven knockout matches without at least one shut-out.
  • The Red Devils haven’t lost consecutive World Cup matches against European teams since 1990 when they were beaten by Spain and England.
  • They have lost just two of their 26 matches under Roberto Martinez – his first in charge in September 2016 against Spain and his most recent versus France in the semi-final).
  • Belgium have scored more goals, 14, than any other side at this World Cup.
  • They have not suffered back-to-back defeats in competitive games since losing European Championship qualifiers to Germany and Turkey in September 2010.
  • Striker Romelu Lukaku has scored 23 goals in his 23 appearances under Roberto Martinez for Belgium, though he’s not scored in any of his last three. He’s never gone four games without a goal for the national side since the Spaniard has been in charge.
  • They are the only side to beat a team from all five Fifa Confederations at this World Cup.

England

  • England’s only other match in a World Cup third-place play-off match was at the 1990 World Cup – they faced Italy and lost 2-1.
  • They have already scored 12 goals, more than they have at any other World Cup finals.
  • England have now been eliminated in four of their five semi-finals at major tournaments, losing each of the last four in a row (Euro 1968 v Yugoslavia, World Cup 1990 v West Germany, Euro 1996 v Germany and World Cup 2018 v Croatia).
  • They are trying to win four matches at a World Cup for only the second time – they won five in 1966.
  • England have had six different goalscorers at this tournament (excluding own goals) – their most at a World Cup – surpassing the five they had at 1954, 1998 & 2002.
  • Only Germany and Italy (both 11) have been involved in more extra-time matches at a World Cup than England’s 10.
  • England had 15 shots on target in their first two 2018 World Cup matches against Tunisia (eight) and Panama (seven) but have had just eight in their four games since – exactly two in each match.
  • No Englishman has scored more World Cup goals in a single tournament than the six Harry Kane has scored in 2018. Gary Lineker also netted six in 1986, winning the Golden Boot in the process.
  • But Kane has had just one shot on target in his last three World Cup matches – his penalty against Colombia in the last 16.
  • They have scored nine goals from set pieces at the 2018 World Cup – the most by a team in a single World Cup tournament since 1966.

SOURCE: BBC SPORT

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