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England and Belgium to ring changes in final Group G game

By Sportswriter Paul Giblin MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) -- Both England and Belgium are expected to make changes to their starting lineups for their final World Cup Group G match in Kaliningrad on Thursday night.

Both sides have already ensured progression to the next round, and both coaches have said they want to win the game despite the possibility of an easier quarterfinal tie for the side finishing second.

Level on points, goal difference and goals scored, England currently top Group G thanks to having been shown one fewer yellow card than Belgium in their games against Tunisia and Panama, but with no amnesty on yellow cards until the semifinals, it’s highly unlikely either side will go actively looking for them in order to help their cause for second place.

Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku is an injury doubt after missing training on Monday and Tuesday after picking up a knock against Tunisia.

Coach Roberto Martinez is likely to rest Lukaku even if he is fit to play, explaining that the Manchester United forward knows the team is more important than individual accolades such as the Golden Boot.

Other key players such as defenders Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen could also be rested, meaning they may miss the chance to go up against club teammate Harry Kane, and England coach Gareth Southgate is sending mixed messages over whether or not the striker, who has scored five goals so far in Russia, will start.

“He is the captain and he knows he will be judged on how far we go as a team. He wants to contribute to a winning team and he knows it is not as satisfying if you are a player scoring goals and the team does not win,” Southgate told Talksport on Tuesday.

A more likely scenario would be for Kane to start and then be replaced by Jamie Vardy in the second half, but there will be changes elsewhere, with Gary Cahill coming in at center-back, Danny Rose starting at left-back and Fabian Delph making an appearance in midfield before a 48-hour round-trip to England to attend the birth of his third child.

Dele Alli could also make a return to action after missing the Panama match with a slight thigh strain, but with little pressure to secure a result against Belgium, he may be limited to an appearance off the bench.

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UPDATES:

Thursday’s Group G and H ties to confirm second round draw

By Paul Giblin MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) -- The draw for the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup will be completed after the final matches in Groups G and H on Thursday, with the pairings still to be decided.

Although England and Belgium are both assured of qualification from Group C ahead of their clash in Kaliningrad, the group winner is yet to be decided, with England currently topping the group on fair play points with one yellow card less than Belgium.

While there is little advantage in topping the group with regards to the possible opponent in the second round, it has been suggested that with a quarterfinal against Brazil or Germany perhaps in store for the group winner, it may be better to finish second.

However, coaches and players from both sides insist they will be looking for a win in order to maintain morale and momentum.

Both Gareth Southgate and Roberto Martinez will nevertheless make changes to their starting lineups in order to rest key players and ensure other squad members maintain match fitness and feel involved.

The possible quarterfinal rival will be clearer after Wednesday’s games in Groups E and F.

The other match in Group G sees the already eliminated pair of Tunisia and Panama look to restore some pride after defeats in their opening two matches.

Group H is more evenly balanced, with three sides playing for two places, although Japan and Senegal, on four points each, have an advantage over Colombia, who only have three.

A point for group leaders Japan against a disappointing Poland side who have already been eliminated will be enough to make the Samurai Blue the only Asian representatives in the last 16, while a draw for Senegal would see them past a Colombia side who came to life in their last match with a 3-0 thrashing of Poland.

The South Americans need a win to go through, although they could qualify on goal difference with a draw if Japan lose against Poland by more than two goals.

The Group H matches are played before England and Belgium play their game later in the day, so the two sides who progress will have to wait to learn the identity of their next opponents, and whether they will play their second round ties in Moscow or Rostov-On-Don. 

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Belgium defender Alderweireld knows all about club mate Kane

By Paul Giblin MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) -- Belgium defender Toby Alderweireld knows more about the threat posed by England striker Harry Kane than virtually anyone else in the 2018 World Cup finals.

Alderweireld and his partner in central defense, Jan Vertonghen share a dressing room with the man who currently leads the race for the Golden Boot in this summer’s tournament.

Two goals against Tunisia followed by three in the 6-1 thrashing of Panama means Kane is the first England striker to score five goals in two World Cup matches since 1986 when Gary Lineker scored a hat-trick against Poland in the group stage and followed it up with a brace of goals against Paraguay in the last 16. “He is in a very good moment and has been all season. He’s a fantastic player,” the Belgian defender said to the press on Wednesday.

Alderweireld highlighted the freshness in the England side which doesn’t seem to be suffering from the big-tournament nerves which has affected them recently in other major competitions. “I know England a bit and I think there is a good group, they are young players who are proud to play for England and you can see that on the pitch. They have an idea of how they want to play and they have a good manager,” Alderweireld said.

England have been the most effective side in Russia from set pieces, netting six of their eight goals from dead-ball situations with three goals coming after a corner kick, two from the penalty spot and one following a free kick.

“We know that [set pieces are] vital for them, so we have to do well and defend because it is a real strength for them,” the central defender said.

           

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