ENGLAND continue their 2018 World Cup journey on Thursday when meeting Belgium in Kaliningrad. Adam Goodwin (@AGJournalism) previews the Group G contest.
England v Belgium | Thursday 28th June 2018, 19:00 | ITV
This is essentially a play-off to decide who finishes top of Group G, with neither team wanting to finish top.
The way the knockout stages are looking at the moment, if you finish second you’re likely to face either Mexico, Serbia or Switzerland in the quarter-finals. Finish first, however, and it’ll probably be a showdown against either Germany or Brazil.
This leaves both sides in the strange of predicament of wanting to finish second and, ultimately, desperate to lose this game.
Belgium cruised past Tunisia on Saturday, comfortably beating them 5-2 in Moscow. Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard both bagged braces for Belgium and the Red Devils showed the quality they have across their whole squad.
The two goals they conceded do show potential weaknesses that England could exploit, but a full-strength Belgium side are a force to be reckoned with.
As I mentioned earlier, neither side really wants to win this game. Roberto Martinez has said that he could make up to 10 changes against England. In his press conference, he said: “If I was going to speak about every player, I think every one of them deserves to play in the World Cup. It’s more important for me to be able to give that opportunity and see how they can react on the pitch and how much they can contribute.”
So it looks highly unlikely that we’ll see the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne lining-up against England on Thursday.
One player that is expected to start is Michy Batshuayi. Romelu Lukaku suffered ligament damage during the Tunisia game and is set to be rested against England, which gives Batshuayi a huge opportunity to impress.
The Chelsea striker came on as a substitute in Belgium’s last game and had six shots in just 20 minutes. Somehow he only managed the one goal, but if he continues to get in similarly good positions on Thursday, the 5/2 on him to score anytime good be a nice slice of value.
Summarising England’s chances in this game by just typing “It’s Coming Home” would probably be suffice, but I’m going to take a more in-depth analysis anyway.
That 6-1 win over Panama was England’s highest in World Cup history and means that they’ve already qualified for the knockout stages. The Three Lions have already scored more goals during this tournament than they did in the last two tournaments combined, and with Harry Kane now the leading scorer at the World Cup, they have a man in top form.
Gareth Southgate has said that he wants to win every game at the tournament. He added: “I don’t know how we would go into a game not wanting to win and not wanting to play well. So, I think that’s dangerous territory, if we start trying to plot and predict where we might end up.”
There are reports that he could make up to six changes against Belgium though, wanting to keep his players fresh for the Last 16.
The betting angles
With the various permutations heading into this game, it makes it very hard to predict how it’s going to play out. With neither team wanting to win, I think you have to look at the draw which, at the moment, is still as big as 119/50 with Marathon.
I think this will be cut in quite a bit as we get closer to kick-off, so it might be worth jumping on that as soon as possible. The ‘No Goalscorer’ bet could also be an angle to take and is currently 17/2 with Sky Bet.
If both sides end up level on points, goal difference, goals scored and goals conceded, the group will be decided on disciplinary records. Belgium have received three yellow cards so far, England have had just the two. So if this game does end a draw, and with both sides potentially looking to finish second, the more bookings the better.
Over 3.5 Cards is 13/10 with 888, and with a lot of players playing with and against each other on a regular basis in the Premier League, I think this game will have a derby feel to it.