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Belgium and England prepare for third place World Cup play-off

Paul Giblin ST PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- It is often said that the third place play-off, in which Belgium will play England on Saturday afternoon, is the game that nobody in the World Cup wants to play.

If you are playing in it you have lost the semifinal and fallen at the last hurdle, which in many ways is far more disappointing than losing the final itself.

Nevertheless, the Belgians and the English have their duty to fulfill and Belgium coach Roberto Martinez was positive about the game in his post-match press conference after losing 1-0 to France on Tuesday.

Martinez said the game offered the chance for his side to secure their highest ever finish in the World Cup.

If Belgium win they would better their fourth place finish in 1986, when Belgium lost a semifinal to Argentina.

The two sides have already played each other in Russia with Belgium winning the final Group G game 1-0 against England in a decaffeinated affair after both sides had already secured their passage into the last 16.

Saturday will probably see something similar as both Martinez and Gareth Southgate look to give another chance to those who have not played much in this World Cup.

Southgate has few options other than to make sweeping changes even if he wanted to field his strongest 11.

England played Croatia on Wednesday, 24 hours later than Belgium’s game against France.

The game went to extra-time, leaving some of the England players exhausted physically and mentally and clearly needing more than just two days to recover.

Kieran Trippier suffered a late injury, meaning Trent Alexander-Arnold will play at right back, while Danny Rose will fill in for Ashley Young on the left.

The only players who may continue for England are Jordan Pickford in goal, although Jack Butland could get the chance to start. Harry Kane’s chance of winning the ‘Golden Boot’ could see him allowed to start in attack.

Belgium, for all of Martinez’s ambitions of finishing third, will also make big changes.

Expect to see forwards, Michy Batshuayi and Adnan Januzaj to start along with Yannick Carrasco, Thomas Vermaelen and Thomas Meunier, who is available again after his suspension.

With little more than pride at stake, these matches tend to see open attacking football and after a long month in Russia one thing is certain: nobody will want to see extra time.


Southgate: No wholesale changes this time against Belgium

Paul Giblin ST PETERSBURG Russia (Xinhua) -- England coach Gareth Southgate will not make wholesale changes to his team when England play Belgium in Saturday’s third place play-off at the 2018 World Cup.

Game for the third and fourth places has been seen at times as unnecessary and unpopular with teams who have suffered the disappointment of losing their semifinals and missing out on a place in the final, but speaking to the press on Friday, Southgate insisted England would take the game seriously.

"It’s obviously been a couple of really difficult days for us, but I’ve got to say the players are incredible," said Southgate, who said England would not relax against Belgium as they look to seal their second-best finish ever in the World Cup.

"We owe it as much to ourselves as to the nation that we finish the tournament well," he said.

Southgate made nine changes in England’s 1-0 loss to Belgium in their last Group G game when both teams were already assured of a place in the last 16.

But despite having less time to recover and prepare for Saturday’s game than Belgium, the coach won’t be repeating that tactic.

"Everybody wants to play but it won’t be exactly the same starting XI (as against Croatia on Wednesday). We want to make as few changes as possible," he commented.

The England coach added that Belgium would also want to end their World Cup on a high note.

"Belgium have had an exceptional tournament ...

"They will want to finish well but so will we.

"It’ll be a good test for us and we haven’t been able to beat these top teams yet," he said.

He added that England would move into the top-10 in the FIFA rankings after the World Cup, but still needed to improve if they want to compete with the best sides in the world on a regular basis.

Southgate is optimistic that the performance in Russia has brought the team and supporters closer together.

"The public have probably enjoyed the way that we’ve played, they’ve got to know the players a little bit better, I think. I feel there will be an affinity there," concluded Southgate.


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