The World Cup’s third place play-off will be contested by England and Belgium at 3pm on Saturday, in what promises to be an enthralling encounter.
Both teams will be bitterly disappointed not to have reached the final, after the Red Devils were unlocked by a Samuel Umtiti header from a corner, and the Three Lions succumbed to a late Mario Mandžukić extra-time winner.
The Red Devils have a chance to improve upon their best ever finish at a World Cup; their previous best was at Mexico ’86 when they ended the tournament in fourth place.
After restoring pride to his country’s national team, Southgate will be targeting England’s second best finish; the Three Lions lost to Italy 2-1 in the third place play-off at Italia ‘90, and won the tournament in 1966.
The Group G Meeting
Adnan Januzaj’s lone strike settled the group meeting between the two sides that had made a combined 17 changes, and although neither team showed an appetite to win the game, that is unlikely to be the case when the teams face-off on Saturday.
The Red Devils have provided plenty of entertainment through the tournament, having completed a stunning comeback from 2-0 down against Japan, and then knocking out the tournament favourites Brazil, 2-1, with a tremendous performance.
But Roberto Martínez’s men looked out of sorts once they fell behind to France, as Didier Deschamps’ strategy to counter-attack Belgium paid dividends.
And the Belgium coach insists he will play his strongest team to go end the tournament on a high.
“I am not going to make changes now to give certain players opportunities because they have already received them against England,” Martinez said.
“Any change will be to make the team stronger.”
For the Three Lions, the semi-final defeat will be even more disappointing, given their first-half opportunities to double their lead against Croatia.
“The honest thing is, it’s not a game any team wants to play in,” Gareth Southgate said.
“We have two days to prepare. We will want to give a performance of huge pride.”
The England boss has been a huge success this tournament, guiding a team with the least amount of international experience to the last four. However, it could be argued that England are still to beat one of the top international sides of world football.
If Southgate can steer England to a victory over a team of Belgium’s calibre that will all change. Victory against the Red Devils, in a competitive game, is the type of win that can give Southgate’s young lions real self confidence in future games against the so called big boys.
Battle for the Golden Boot
One other piece of silverware likely to be decided in the third place match will be the Golden Boot, unless something dramatic happens in the final between Croatia and France.
Harry Kane leads all scorers in Russia with six, followed by Romelu Lukaku (4), Kylian Mbappé (3), and Antoine Griezmann (3).
And both Lukaku and Kane will be desperate to finish the tournament on a high. Kane has now failed to score in his last two games, after scoring six goals in his first three matches.
Lukaku has not managed to score a goal in the knockout rounds, although he contributed to both winning goals against Japan and Brazil.
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