England and Belgium would have rather hoped that their second meeting in the world cup would be the final.
Instead, they meet for the consolation prize of third place in Saint Petersburg. With missed opportunities, both teams will look to finish on a high, while giving a chance to those who haven't had much of an opportunity in the tournament.
In hindsight, the Belgian manager, Roberto Martinez missed a trick by reverting to a back three. It was a move influenced by the absence of the first choice right back, Thomas Meunier, due to suspension, with Nacer Chadli and Thorgan Hazard as wing backs.
The latter was electric in the first half against France. But he couldn't keep up with the constant back and forth of attacking and defending in the second half, as Belgium petered to a dispiriting loss. Perhaps the decision to not select a specialist full-back other than Meunier cost the team a golden opportunity to make their first final.
Yet the Belgians should be proud of their showing, with the victories over Japan and Brazil being the high points in their campaign. With a squad full of potential, Martinez will look to build towards the future and the third-place encounter is a perfect game to do so.
The likes of Dedryck Boyata, Youri Tielemans, Leonardo Dendoncker, Adnan Januzaj and Michy Batshuayi are likely to get a run in and will hope they impress their manager.
The English after a heartbreaking extra-time loss to the tenacious Croats will look to end the tournament on a vibrant note. Against Croatia, they started brilliantly and took the lead through an expertly placed Kieran Trippier free-kick.
For the rest of the half, the front four of Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, and Harry Kane, constantly troubled the Croatian defence, threatening to double the score and seal the game. England should have capitalised on their momentum in the first half when they looked extremely likely to score further, but a spate of missed chances meant that Croatia was still in the running at the half-time.
The second half was a completely different ball game as Croatia grew into the contest and started dominating the midfield. Their perseverance was rewarded with an excellent goal by Ivan Perisic and Croatia clearly ended the better team by the end of regulation time.
This dominance continued in extra time as Mario Mandzukic scored a typical poacher’s goal to give the lead and the match to Croatia. After the first half, England displayed familiar midfield frailties and got outmanned in the area.
Moreover, the front four which started brilliantly was tiring and could not impact the game as before. The biggest positive of Gareth Southgate's tenure has been the comfort given to the players. With players starting in their natural positions, the team looked settled and confident.
In the end, it was the lack of midfield personnel in the English roster which led to their defeat, and with the promise of talent from the Under 17 and Under 20 teams, the future can only be brighter. A step in that direction could be the selection of Ruben Loftus-Cheek or Fabian Delph as a midfielder to partner Henderson in a pivot in today's game, alongside giving a chance to Liverpool right back, Trent Alexander-Arnold. A swashbuckling display from England could help in easing the pain of the semi final loss.
Players to watch out for
Adnan Januzaj: It seemed as though the fleet-footed No.10 had lost his way after a promising start in the 2013-14 season with Manchester United. Managerial uncertainty didn’t help his cause as he was loaned out to Borussia Dortmund and Sunderland. Real Sociedad signed him permanently last season, and the faith showed as he was one of the bright spots in an underwhelming season for the Basque club. Still only 23, Januzaj has a great opportunity to stake his claim in the Belgium starting lineup.
Fabian Delph: The City midfielder did not see too many minutes for England, Delph has a chance to show his capabilities in the third-place playoff. Left-footed and versatile, Delph has matured into a reliable central midfielder over the years. Lacking a midfielder to partner Henderson, Delph would look to stake his claim for that vacancy.
Belgium : 1-3-4-3
Mignolet- Boyata, Alderweireld, Vermaelen- Meunier, Dendoncker, Tielemans, Carrasco- Januzaj, Batshuayi, Mertens
Butland- Jones, Stones, Maguire- Alexander-Arnold, Dier, Delph, Rose- Loftus-Cheek- Kane, Vardy
First Published: IST