When the FIFA World Cup draw was made in mid-December, one of the standout fixtures was Belgium vs England. Given that they would each meet for the last match of the round, the prediction was that both should have already qualified; this has played to form. Both teams will meet tied on points and goals for an against. However, England tops the group based on the Fair Play tiebreaker, having amassed a card less. Both teams are likely to rest some of their top players as they eye a deep run in the tournament. But this may not be the “glorified friendly” as its shaping up to be, given that their credentials are at stake, and the whole world is watching.
1. Blessing in Disguise?
It is projected in some quarters that finishing second in the group could be a blessing in disguise, as that team would have an easier run to the semis. However, neither of these teams would want to lose to the other. Besides, to be the best you have to beat the best. Romelu Lukaku (unlikely to play) and Harry Kane are also in a Golden Boot race, and one would not want the other to get away with a lead. The core of both teams is built from Premier league top clubs Manchester, United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Liverpool. Given this reality, there is hardly any secret about the other. Heck, even their go to formation is a back three.
Given that their first two opponents were ones that they were expected to dispatch with scant regards, especially Belgium, it is widely viewed that their real test begins now. The term “Golden Generation” is thrown around these days like fertiliser on crops, but the fact of the matter is, this is a good a chance as any for this Belgium team to challenge, especially with France not certain if they’re playing football or eating breakfast, Spain looking shaky in all departments, especially at the back and Germany already out of the tournament.
With a front three comprising of Eden Hazard, Lukaku and Dries Mertens, this forward line can fire any top team to a title. Belgium also has other world class players in the defensive areas such as keeper Thibaut Courtois, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. And how can we forget Kevin de Bruyne? The only thing he is yet to create is the eighth day of the week.
2. Lions in Transition
England on the other hand is a team in transition. This is an obvious reality given that they’re one of the youngest teams at the tournament, second only to Nigeria. Not much was expected of the Three Lions, and a quarter-final run would be seen as a good platform to build this team. Like the core of this experienced Belgium squad, most of these English players have come up together through the age group tournaments. Unlike their U17 and U20 team behind them, they haven’t won anything.
However, they seem to have a chemistry that the recent squads before them didn’t have, and they also appear to be better coached, as a clear system of play is evident. This batch is expected to be the one that will help to make the English team contenders going into Euro 2020 and the next World Cup in 2022, while some of the U17 and U20 winning team matriculates into the senior programme.