|Nearly every football expert expected Belgium to go into their matchday three fixture with England with six points from six. England, on the other, may not have instilled the same belief in many of those same pundits.
Yet, matchday three kicks off on Thursday with both sides level on six points.
Belgium started match one against Panama sluggishly before exploding with three second-half goals. Roberto Martinez’s side followed up its first win by hammering Tunisia 5-2. The team has looked strong, but capable of making mistakes at times.
Gareth Southgate’s England also struggled to get into second gear in their opener. The team was a few minutes away from drawing against Tunisia, but Harry Kane’s winner in the first minute of stoppage-time sealed all three points. The Three Lions were far stronger in game two against Panama. Kane’s hat-trick led the way as England won 6-1.
Now, Belgium and England clash with the winner topping the group. A draw would see the teams need fair play points to determine which side tops Group H. As it stands ahead of the fixture, England lead the way with –2 fair play points.
Belgium may rest striker Romelu Lukaku as Martinez has hinted at the possibility. The striker has scored four goals at the World Cup so far, but Martinez is worried about wearing the big man out. Lukaku is also carrying a slight ankle knock and sitting him out would enable him to be fit for the round of 16. Belgium would replace Lukaku with Michy Batshuayi, who tallied a goal in their win over Tunisia. Martinez does have injury worries ahead of the game and with progression already assured, he could sit more than Lukaku. Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens have also picked up slight injuries.
Martinez has hinted in interviews that squad players will get a chance against England. Southgate may do the same although injuries are not his concern. The amount of high-level football could influence the England manager to swap around his players. Southgate’s only starting XI change from match one to two was Dele Alli. The midfielder suffered a leg injury against Tunisia and was replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek in game two. Alli has returned to training and is expected to play on Thursday.
Despite England’s great international record against Belgium (15 wins from 21 games), the Three Lions don’t have the overall calibre the Belgians do. Belgium should have little difficulty defeating England in Kaliningrad as the Red Devils will top Group H.
England vs Belgium Predictions:
Under 2.5 goals