Third-Place Play-Off – Belgium v England preview

Third-Place Play-Off

It’s the game no-one really wants to end up playing in, but both England and Belgium have to make the most of the opportunity to finish third rather than fourth at the World Cup in Russia.

Recent history suggests that this game should be an open one, with the winners of each of the last four Third-Place play-offs having scored three times to do so.

Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that a tight-cagey affair will be played out in the Krestovsky Stadium in St Petersburg on Saturday afternoon.

Team selection is somewhat hard to predict however, as both managers could opt to give their squad players a run-out, just as both did when these two sides met in the group stage of the competition.

On that occasion an Adnan Januzaj goal secured a 1-0 win for the Red Devils, but more goals are highly likely this weekend.

Belgium to win in normal time – 2.15

One thing is absolutely certain though, neither team will want to be bothered with either extra-time or penalties, so you can expect both sides to push late on in the game if the scores are level.

The Red Devils are the fancied pick to win the game, perhaps because their second string have already put paid to their England counterparts earlier on in the tournament.

The Three Lions are 3.35 to come out on top in normal time, with much depending on just what strength of line-up coaches Roberto Martinez and Gareth Southgate opt to go for.

Belgium to win 3-1 – 17.00

With the three-goal mark having been hit by the winners in recent play-offs, Martinez’s men appear on paper too have a little more firepower than the England line-up, who started to struggle in front of goal from open play when the knockout phase kicked in.

Free-kicks and corners became the main danger from England, while Belgium’s free-flowing style allowed them to mount a serious comeback against Japan in the last-16 and overcome Brazil in the quarter-finals.

Only France, in the semi-finals, found a way to block the Belgian path and the Red Devils will be eager to show just what they are capable of at their optimum, even if it is one game too late.

Michy Batshauyi to score at any time – 2.50

Striker Michy Batshauyi will be one of the fringe players desperate to show what he can do, having struggled to make an impact at Chelsea, before a more productive loan spell with Borussia Dortmund last season raised his profile once again.

With a summer move away from Stamford Bridge still a real possibility, the former Marseille man will want to demonstrate his capabilities.

The same can be said of England frontman Jamie Vardy, who has watched most of the tournament from the bench, with skipper Harry Kane leading the line for the Three Lions.

Vardy offers a more direct option up top and, while England will have to alter the approach slightly to fit the Leicester City man in, he is a player never lacking in the motivation needed to make his mark.

He is 2.85 to score at anytime in the game, but with other matters still to be decided, both Kane and Belgian rival Romelu Lukau could persuade their respective bosses to give them one last chance to impress in Russia.

Kane (1.95 to score at any time) leads the Golden Boot race with six goals so far at the World Cup, while Lukaku (1.90 to score at any time) currently has four to his name.

However, the Belgian has one assist to none for Kane, meaning that a two-goal swing in favour of Lukaku on Saturday would see him pip his Premier League rival for the coveted award.

Meanwhile, Kane has the target of getting on the scoresheet to become only the second player, after Brazil great Ronaldo, to score more than six goals in a finals tournament since 1974.

A penalty to be awarded – 2.70

The group stages of the World Cup saw the VAR system seemingly take centre stage on a number of occasions, however things have been a lot quieter in the knockout games, with the system appearing to be better understood by those using it.

We have, though, plenty of squares in the air from the players, notably when they think a penalty should be forthcoming and it would be no surprise to see a spot-kick awarded in the Krestovsky Stadium.

If that is the case, both sides have penalty experts among their ranks in Kane and Eden Hazard, although whether those players will be on the pitch at the right time is another matter altogether.

England total corners over 4.5 – 1.90

As we have seen on a number of occasions, the Three Lions have enjoyed a good deal of success from their finely tuned set-piece routines, with the likes of Harry Maguire, John Stones and Kieran Trippier all getting among the goals as a result.

With that in mind, England will surely be aiming to cause problems for a slightly fragile Belgium backline, whose own final hopes were extinguished by Samuel Umtiti heading home from a corner as France edged their semi-final meeting by the only goal.

England to win on penalties – 15.00

As a final thought, wouldn’t it top off a tournament where England confounded a majority of the pre-tournament predictions nicely, if they won another penalty shootout?

Having broken their World Cup shootout duck against Colombia in the first knockout round, the Three Lions showed the virtue of having practised spot-kicks properly for once.

Previous England regimes have hidden behind the mantra of ‘you can’t replicate the pressure of a shootout in training’, but Southgate and his staff have swept that idea away and the fear factor is already much less than it was a matter of weeks ago.

Whether Southgate decides to stick with Jordan Pickford in goal is another case of wait and see, although Jack Butland and Nick Pope also have decent spot-kick records.