England and Belgium battle for World Cup consolation prize
SAINT PETERSBURG: England face Belgium in the World Cup third-place playoff on Saturday with the tournament’s top scorer Harry Kane eyeing the chance to add to his six goals in the meeting of the beaten semi-finalists.
Both teams will line up in Saint Petersburg with a sense of what might have been as France and Croatia prepare for Sunday’s final in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, but they will want to leave Russia on a high.
Tottenham’s Kane has the chance to become just the second England player after Gary Lineker in 1986 to win the Golden Boot, joining luminaries such as Brazil’s Ronaldo, Germany’s Gerd Mueller and Portugal’s Eusebio.
“Last training session of this World Cup,” Kane tweeted on Friday. “Time for one final push tomorrow and finish on a high!”
Kane, 24, came into the tournament after another prolific season for Spurs and started with a bang, scoring two goals in his first match against Tunisia and a hat-trick against Panama.
But he failed to find the net against Croatia in Wednesday’s semi-final as England agonisingly let a 1-0 lead slip to lose 2-1.
Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku has four goals in Russia, with the French pair of Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe both on three.
England manager Gareth Southgate admitted the challenge of preparing for the bronze medal game has been tough, saying he would make changes.
“It won’t be exactly the same starting XI but ideally we want to make as few changes as possible,” he said. “We have the chance to win a medal at the World Cup, which only one other English team has ever done.”
Southgate is determined to paint a positive picture of England’s tournament, despite the agony of missing out on their first final since 1966.
“It’s been an incredible experience, a life experience,” he said. “We talked as a group of players and staff that we wanted to create memories which would be with us forever, and friendships which would last forever.”
“We have a chance to win a medal, we have a chance to give the best-ever performance on foreign soil from an English team.”
For Belgium, a third-place finish would represent their best-ever performance at a World Cup, after they finished fourth in Mexico in 1986.
Despite boasting the attacking prowess of Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, Roberto Martinez’s men fell short in their semi-final against France, losing 1-0.
– France favourites –
Didier Deschamps’ team are firm favourites to win Sunday’s showpiece in Moscow and become world champions for the second time — 20 years after their first triumph in 1998.
France forward Griezmann said winning the trophy was more important than how the team do it.
Belgium’s players criticised the tactics France used in their 1-0 semi-final win as Deschamps’ team sat deep and Samuel Umtiti’s headed goal came from a corner, but Griezmann dismissed the criticism.
“I don’t care. I want the star (on my shirt for World Cup winners). If I get that star, I don’t care about how we play,” the 27-year-old Atletico Madrid forward said.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic is prepared to make changes if some of his players have not recovered from their exertions in reaching football’s biggest game.
Dalic’s men have been forced to go through three periods of extra-time against Denmark, Russia and England to become the smallest country in 68 years to make the final.
“One thing that brings me happiness is that all my players tell me if they are not 100 percent fit,” he said.
“They will concede they are not fit. They know what is at stake, but if they are unable to give their all they will tell us. They have such an attitude.”
Ivan Perisic, who scored and set up Mario Mandzukic’s winner in the semi-final win over England, was among five Croatian players to miss training on Friday.
“We have nothing to train,” said Dalic. “We need relaxation and rest to gain freshness for tomorrow. We have some minor injuries, minor problems, and I hope my players will be ready. If not, I have great players on the bench who will be raring to go.”