England v Belgium Preview

England v Belgium

England’s thumping win over Panama on Sunday has turned Group G on its head going into a showdown against Belgium on Thursday in Kaliningrad.

It had looked probable that Gareth Southgate’s side would need to defeat the Belgians to secure top spot, with both teams already assured of their last-16 places, but the goal-glut against Panama means that is no longer the case.

Having both scored eight goals and conceded two, the top two positions will be decided by the number of cards accumulated, should this game end in draw. England have two yellows and Belgium have picked up three so far in Russia.

Now we’ve got to wonder just what sort of game we’ll see here – it could be a bit of a standoff. Will either team be effected by what happens in the decisive Group H games, taking place four hours earlier on Thursday?

There, Japan (who face already eliminated Poland) are battling with Senegal and Colombia for the top two spots.

The South Americans impressed in dispatching Poland 3-0 last time out and, arguably, should Colombia finish second, it could be seen as favourable for England or Belgium to take second spot in Group G and avoid them in the next round.

Of course, neither side is going to admit a desire to take a negative result from this meeting, while they should also be loath to cede the momentum they have going for them right now.

There’s also the prospect of picking up suspensions to be considered, should that yellow card situation change.

Southgate must consider if he wants to risk Kyle Walker or Ruben Loftus-Cheek, with both a booking away from picking up a suspension, while opposite number Roberto Martinez has similar concerns regarding Jan Vertonghen, Kevin De Bruyne and Thomas Meunier.

England are slight favourites at 2.70, with the Belgians at 2.90 and the draw priced at 2.95.

Both managers have injury concerns to think of as well. Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Eden Hazard are doubts for the Belgians and could be rested, though the Manchester United forward may wish to continue his pursuit of the golden boot.

Dele Alli is a doubt for the Three Lions, while there is plenty speculation that Southgate will choose to start some of this fringe players. In reality, it is likely that we’ll see changes on both teams.

There is also a scenario where Colombia will have earned top spot in their group before things start in Kaliningrad, an outcome that would crystalize matters somewhat.

Both England and Belgium have impressed at times in their first two World Cup 2018 games. It is hard to get away from the notion this might turn into shadow boxing and a 1-1 draw at odds of 6.25 seems a likely outcome.

Given the role they may end up playing, it could also be worth taking the 2.25 on offer that there will be under 2.5 bookings in this game. It is unlikely the tackles will be flying!