England confirmed their place in the last 16 of the World Cup with a thrashing of Panama on Sunday, and first place in the group is now on the line when they face Belgium in Kaliningrad on Thursday (19:00 BST, live on ITV).
England were 5-0 up at half-time against Panama and seemed to go a bit lighter on them thereafter, adding just one more goal and later letting one in to leave the final score at 6-1. Harry Kane scored a hat-trick, John Stones grabbed two and Jesse Lingard got the other.
Kane’s hat-trick was the first for an England striker at a World Cup since Gary Lineker’s against Poland in 1986, and saw him move to the head of the top-scorer charts. “We wouldn’t swap him for anyone in the tournament,” coach Gareth Southgate said afterwards. “You know that when he gets opportunities, he’ll bury them.”
It was, in general, a good performance, albeit against clearly inferior opposition, and a result that saw England move exactly level with Belgium atop the group. They are tied on six points apiece, having both scored eight and conceded two. If they were to draw on Thursday, their positions in the group would be decided by their respective disciplinary records. England currently lie top by that measure, with two yellow cards to Belgium’s three.
The situation will be clearer nearer the time but it is quite possible that neither side will be too keen to top Group G by the time kickoff comes around. Results of Wednesday’s final matches in Groups E and F will determine the better side of the bracket to aim for.
Coming into the tournament, it was assumed that Brazil (E) and Germany (F) would both top their groups. In that scenario, regardless if England finished first or second, successful progress past the last 16 would have left them set to face one or the other in their quarter-final. That is still possible, but it is more likely that Brazil will and Germany won’t. In that case, finishing second would likely mean a quarter-final against Mexico or Switzerland.
That could result in Sunday’s match taking a slightly strange form, with neither side particularly keen to score. Indeed, if the difference is a yellow card or two, it could even be that the final stages are littered with cynical trips and shoves as both teams try to accumulate cards and therefore lose leadership of the group.
As their respective goal differences coming into the final match day will attest, England and Belgium have both made relatively light work of the two weaker teams in Group G. While England slightly laboured to overcome Tunisia 2-1 in their opener, they easily swept aside Panama. Belgium began with a 3-0 win over Panama, before thrashing Tunisia 5-2.
There have been clear differences in the manner in which the two teams have scored their goals. Seven of Belgium’s eight have come from open play, while six of England’s eight have come from set-pieces. Belgium have played the more fluid football but have also showed a bit more defensive vulnerability – somewhat of a trademark for their coach Roberto Martinez, formerly of Wigan and Everton.
There are plenty of other recognisable faces in the Belgium team, including Chelsea’s Thibault Courtois and Eden Hazard, the Tottenham Hotspur trio of Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele and Toby Alderweireld, Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany and Kevin de Bruyne, and Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku. In contrast to England, whose entire squad ply their trade in England, just one member of Belgium’s squad plays domestically.
Our Preview’s England vs. Belgium Betting Tips Verdict
There are plenty of different scenarios that could play out on Thursday, many of which will be affected by events the day prior. If things work out so that it comes down to a straight playoff for first place, England have shown enough in the build-up to the tournament and in their first two performances to suggest they are capable of competing with Belgium.
As for our battle with the UK betting websites, backing an England win whilst using the security of the ‘draw no bet’ market to cover eventualities elsewhere seems a solid play.
- Back England to win on the ‘draw no bet’ market @ 5/6 with Betfair.