None of them wanted it, but Belgium and England meet again, in 3rd place play off, ESPN writes.
This flowing, expressive, exceptionally talented Belgium side have been touted as potential world-beaters for some time and, with members of their ranks the wrong side of 30, they will arguably be ruing that missed shot at football’s biggest prize more than others. But Saturday presents the chance for greatness, as bronze would see them exceed the heralded side who finished fourth at Mexico 1986.
England’s squad are one of their youngest ever to appear at the finals, so while the sense of a last chance is not there, one of a missed opportunity is. Both starting XIs will be tough to predict, coming at the end of a long seven games for all involved, but third place would be the Three Lions’ biggest achievement since triumphing in 1966. It would also see them equal the recent feat of their women’s team, who earned bronze at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015.
Motivation is often the key factor in a Match for Third Place and Belgium may have the stronger impetus. Thomas Meunier will be back into the team and has already stressed the importance of finishing third for the first time in their history. With plenty of English connections with the side, the Red Devils will be keen to surf on their psychological edge after earning their first win over the Three Lions in 82 years a fortnight ago.
Lifting England’s disappointed heads, less than 72 hours after their World Cup dream slipped away, will be a real test for Gareth Southgate. Yet this is an opportunity for them to fulfil their tournament objectives: restore a lasting pride in the jersey and give fans cause to celebrate. This young team is determined to make a permanent mark on this World Cup. Team adjustments will be made to account for injuries, but they will be kept to a minimum compared to when these sides met in Kaliningrad.
Belgium and England have already met during the World Cup in a match both teams seemed reluctant to win and on Saturday they will face each other again in a game they both seem reluctant to play. The two sides must pick themselves up and dust themselves down after suffering the crushing disappointment of semi-final defeats to play for the modest prize of third place in a fixture often criticised as pointless.
“It’s not a game any team wants to play,” said England manager Gareth Southgate after his team lost 2-1 to Croatia after extra time in Wednesday’s second semi-final.
“Of course, we want to win, we’ll be ready to go again because the team take great pride in their performances. It’s a bit too early after that defeat to think about it.”
His Belgian counterpart Roberto Martinez was similarly unenthused about the game after his side were beaten 1-0 by France on Tuesday.
“It’s a difficult emotion to manage. You’re disappointed because you lose the semi-final, and it’s very difficult to see the opportunity of playing another game as a positive,” he said.
Even so, he said he would try to lift his team.
“We need to regroup and recover and see the opportunity. To try to finish third in the World Cup doesn’t happen often. The only time it happened in Belgian football was in 1986, when we finished fourth.”
The two teams previously met in their final group stage game when both had already guaranteed a place in the last 16 — with the twist that the side who finished second would land in the easier side of the draw.
Martinez switched nine players and Southgate brought in eight, a decision he described as a ‘no brainer’ in the circumstances.
Belgium won 1-0 and were rewarded with games against Japan, Brazil and France while England played Colombia, Sweden and Croatia but the end result for both sides was the same — semi-final elimination.
“Sometimes I think you have to look at the bigger picture and make decisions that might be criticised,” said Southgate at the time.
The third-place match was dropped from the European championship by UEFA following the 1980 tournament but has remained part of the World Cup calendar despite complaints. FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Both teams are in their second third-place match, Belgium having lost to France in 1986 and England to Italy four years later.
It tends to be a high-scoring fixture with each of the last four winners scoring three goals — Turkey in 2002, Germany in 2006 and 2010 and Netherlands in 2014. (Writing by Brian Homewood Editing by Toby Davis).