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England vs Belgium
2018 FIFA World Cup, Group G
|Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad|
Belgium have topped group G, defeating the English 1-nil in a timid and tepid affair between these two nations competing for the ultimate glory.
The first half was borderline questionable as to the competitive integrity of football, as both teams seemed to almost give possession to the other, so little effort were the teams putting into the match.
The second half was significantly more watchable, as both teams managed to string together much more lively play, as Marcus Rashford and the Belgian attack managed some strong shots on target.
It was an Adnan Januzaj belter that would ultimately separate the two sides at full-time, to give the Belgians the top spot in the group and a 100% record going into the knock out phase.
Little to like about this final encounter in Kaliningrad, but now both teams can focus on the cut-throat phase of the competition.
And so we come to the final round of group stage matches, with a red-hot England team trying to keep a hold of top spot against a star-studded Belgium, who should be trying to jump up to top spot in Group G. Join The Roar for live scores and a blog of the match, starting from 4am (AEST).
This could be a knock out stage match, so in a sense, with passage through to the round of 16 secure, now is the perfect time to meet one another. When the pressure is off.
If Panama were world class opposition, you would be almost convinced that England are the new frontrunners to take out the world cup. Even more so now that Germany are gone. In fact, if my twitter feed were anything to go by, you would think that Panama were in fact a world class opponent.
But Panama are not world class, and England are yet to prove that they cannot conjure up disappointment on a regular basis in a global football tournament. For all the hype surrounding England’s huge last-start win, tonight is a bit more of a test, even if the pressure of qualifying is off.
Now, they must truly come up against the pressure of expectation.
Belgium on the other hand are playing as a team without a care in the world. Belgium have been impressive, but calm as well.
Curiously, these two teams have mirrored one another in their group matches to date – one solid win, one big one, but each against different opponents. Tunisia and Panama were always up against it in this group.
And as far as qualification for the knock out stages are concerned, coming first or second may not ultimately make that much of a difference in the round of 16, given that at this stage, little separates Japan, Senegal, or Colombia (all of whom could qualify from group H).
In fact, if anything, it is the runner up position that is the more enticing in group G. Finish second in this group, and you bypass the likes of Brazil, Portugal, France, and Uruguay. Essentially, your path to the final becomes easier, if only slightly.
As the group currently stands, England is on top due to a superior goal difference, so a draw will see them top the group.
How will these teams play it out? I’m going to remain hopeful both teams will realise that tanking at this time of the tournament does nobody any good, because you don’t want bad habits creeping into your team when cut-throat matches are just around the corner.
England have never lost to Belgium in a world cup, having drawn with the Belgians in 1954, and beaten them 1-0 at Italia 90.
England and Belgium are yet to play a quality opponent, this is the real test for each team leading into the knock out stages of the tournament. Both defences should be pressed, both attacks should be pressured, both midfields should be stretched, and both keepers should be busy. This may come down to individuals stepping up. Kane v Hazard? Yes please. Hazard just pips the Englishman. Just.
England 2 – Belgium 3
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