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England ready for Group G decider

England and Belgium go head to head tonight as they clash to determine who tops the group.

Posted by Andy Thompson
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The 7pm game at the Kaliningrad Stadium is seen by many as a dead rubber, but neither England manager Gareth Southgate nor his counterpart Roberto Martinez will be of that view as both teams look to secure top spot. England are 8/5 to beat Belgium.

With either Japan or Columbia lying in wait in the last 16, both teams will look to forge their own destiny instead of worrying about who they can play further down the line. Both England and Belgium will be confident of beating their future opponents and whilst both will likely rotate and rest players, winning is a habit.

Both teams are of course through having overpowered Tunisia and Panama respectively in their previous matches. This match was always likely going to be the group decider and it is difficult to separate the two teams.

I expect that there will be some rotation. The Belgians have arguably the stronger squad to choose from even if the starting first choice elevens are tough to call. Romelu Lukaku is ruled out after leaving the field with an ankle knock in the 5-2 win over Tunisia. Tied at second place in the Golden Boot stakes, Lukaku will be disappointed to not get the chance to extend his goalscoring run.

Roberto Martinez has hinted at changes in his press conferences so you may see the likes of Eden Hazard and Thibault Courtois given a rest. The likes of Marouane Fellaini (to the chagrin of anyone who has ever watched him attempt to play football) and Simon Mignolet may be given an opportunity to stake their claim.

England meanwhile may choose to rest the likes of Reds skipper Jordan Henderson, who ran 11km in the 6-1 mauling of Panama in 30 degree heat, and may give both Danny Rose and Trent Alexander Arnold an outing – a first competitive cap for the latter if that happens. Harry Kane will want to start as he has demonstrated a verve for personal records and achievement (not that I am criticising this) and he is currently the tournament’s leading goalscorer with 5. It would make sense to rotate him but at the same time, England will want to keep their main man firing. England to win 2-0 is 10/1.

Gareth Southgate has been quick to downplay the notion that it may be easier for the Three Lions to finish second in the group. This is wise given that England haven’t won a knockout game since 2006. In the twelve years since, they were eliminated in the last 16 phase in 2010 and didn’t get out of the group stages in 2014.

Southgate’s brand of realism mixed with cautious positivity has got England fans on his side over the last few months. He is aware that there are expectations but is very much a man who concentrates on his bread and butter – the next game. He takes it one match at a time and instead of balancing potential quarter finals, he is concerned only with the Belgium game currently. We like to think ahead, though. England to reach the semi-finals is 9/2.

The group is delicately poised, with England currently ahead of the Red Devils on virtue of having had less players booked. After Sadio Mané’s Senegal heartache, where they were eliminated because they had less yellow cards than Japan but the same number of points and an identical goal difference, you suspect England will not approach this game in a particularly physical manner but will hope that walking yellow card Fellaini does play.

It’s a tough game to predict until you’ve seen the teams but you would think some rotation will take place. I think the game will be a close one between two confident teams and both have the added bonus of playing without any kind of tangible pressure as qualification has long been sealed. England’s main aim will be to win the group and maintain their momentum ahead of a trip to the last 16, where they will have expectations of being able to put in a very credible challenge to reach the Quarter Finals.

I have a feeling that Jamie Vardy will play a bigger role in this match and I fancy him to score at any time. I am also very sure that if he is on the field, Marouane Fellaini will be yellow carded! Vardy is 8/5 to score at anytime.

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