The Early Bird Catches the Worm
England and Belgium meet each other in the final round of games of Group G. It could’ve been their first real big test of the tournament, but both teams have managed to brush aside lesser opponents in Panama and Tunisia to claim all six points and a spot in the knockout stages.
Instead England and Belgium will use this game a proving ground for potential pitfalls, alternative options and a chance to get the draw they want in the knockouts. There’s still much to play for, and they won’t see this a friendly, or a glorified kick about, à la France vs. Denmark on Tuesday.
Expect them to want to control the game, expect them to want to make an impression. Expect them to test each other’s nerve, and most importantly - expect there to be goals...early on.
England have gone into this tournament in the strongest fashion since the 90s and look dangerous on the attack. With such a range of attacking options at Gareth Southgate’s disposal it’s hard to see how they won’t score against Belgium. There’s a mix of rumours going round as to whether he will drop players, or more like how many players he will drop.
If this World Cup has taught us anything, it’s that England like to start strong
Whether or not Southgate decides to start with his first choice attacking line up of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard, he still has a back-up of Dele Alli, Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Danny Welbeck. Not bad at all. You can be sure anyone of those players will have something to prove if they’re selected.
If this World Cup has taught us anything, it’s that England like to start strong. Against Tunisia they peppered the goal at least two times before they scored in the 11th minute. Some say they struggled and place too much emphasis on the late goal making the difference, but just watch the highlights reel and you’ll see they created plenty of goal-worthy chances. They had 18 shots on goal and 8 of them were on target.
This is a team that likes to make an impact, and early at that
Fast forward to Panama and they were already up by the 8th minute. Building on that consistently through the first half with another four goals to make it 5-0. By contrast they only managed one in the second half to finish 6-1. Make no mistake, this is a team that likes to make an impact, and early at that.
Star players Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard are in good spirits. Lukaku like his English counterpart Harry Kane is going for the Golden Boot, netting two in each game already. Hazard is looking like his real self after a difficult season with Chelsea and has already managed two against Tunisia.
Like England, even if Belgium rest players they have a host of unctuous understudies ready to step up and show what they’re made of. Players like Thorgan Hazard, Nacer Chadli, Adnan Januzaj and of course Michy Batshuayi all have what it takes.
Traditionally England’s defence has been their prime asset, but they have looked shaky at points, particularly in set piece situations. Expect Belgium’s attackers to want to test this weakness.
Beating England would be a firm statement of intent
Back in Belgium there is a feeling of unease about this team. They know they’re good, but that’s not the problem. They’re so good they’re calling them the ‘Golden Generation’. What they’re worried about is whether or not this squad will waste their chances and become could-have-beens. Beating England would be a firm statement of intent to any potential opposition and quieten critics back home.
Whether or not their respective managers will want to step up to the plate for this one, the players regardless have something to prove. The two teams are locked together on points and on goal difference, proving how evenly matched they are. There isn’t just one-upmanship at play here, each team sees the other as a test for what is to come, and they’ll want to go into the knockout stages as confident as possible. Not to mention the battle for first team starts in their respective squads.
The market looks like it’s made its mind up on this one with most betting sites opting for around 7/2 or 39/10 (4.5-4.9). Odds are decent probably because they’re anticipating a quiet game. I found Ladbrokes is slightly ahead of the curve offering odds of 17/4 (5.25) which is why I’m going with them.