Belgium edge out England as Three Lions are offered softer route to final
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Belgium edge out England as Three Lions are offered softer route to final

jakub-bobro
Jakub Bobro
England(3-5-2): Pickford; Jones, Stones (Maguire, min. 45), Cahill; Alexander-Arnold (Welbeck, min. 79), Loftus-Cheek, Dier, Delph, Rose; Rashford, Vardy.
Belgium(3-4-3): Courtois; Dendockner, Boyata, Vermaelen (Kompany, min. 74); Chadli, Fellaini, Dembele, T.Hazard; Januzaj (Mertens, min. 86), Batshuayi, Tielemans.
SCORE0-1, min. 50, Januzaj
REFEREEDamir Skomina (SVN) Booked: Tielemans (min. 19), Dendockner (min. 33)
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Belgium will face Japan, England will face Colombia in Round of 16. With this match, the group stages are over. Tomorrow will be the first day with no World Cup matches (I don't even remember what that feels like). England will play their Round of 16 at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow next Tuesday at 7 PM.

Full time!

90+3: Belgium are just passing the ball round the back, waiting for the referee to end the match.

90+1: A scramble issues after Batshuayi drove the ball in the six-yard box, tried to pass it to Fellaini who takes a heavy touch, a foul is given to England after a few seconds of confusion.

3 added minutes!

88: Belgium launched a counter-attack through Fellaini, Mertens took a shot and Pickford came up with a great save.

87: Rose takes a free kick quickly, catching out the Belgian defense. Welbeck only had the keeper to beat from a tough angle, missed the goal.

86: Substitution: Dries Mertens comes on for today's goalscorer Adnan Januzaj, getting the winger proper individual appreciation from the crowd.

85: England just keep coming forward. This time the cross from Loftus-Cheek was too far for Welbeck.

81: Marcus Rashford fires in a free kick just over the bar. Another solid chance for England.

79: Substitution: Danny Welbeck makes an appearance, coming on for Trent Alexander-Arnold. Definitely an offensive substitution.

76: Alexander-Arnold plays the ball into the far post from a free kick, Stones heads it back in, but Courtois picks it up.

75: Substitution: Vincent Kompany comes on for the last 15 minutes, making his first appearance this World Cup. He replaces Thomas Vermaelen.

74: Belgium have been sitting back in the last few minutes, making England work for every inch near their penalty area.

Meanwhile in Saransk: Wahbi Khazri of Sunderland takes the lead for Tunisia! After a disappointing display from African teams at this World Cup, not getting any teams in the elimination phases, Tunisia finishing with a win could somewhat salvage the sour taste.

66: A huge chance for Rashford! He was through on goal, tried to slot it past Courtois who got his fingertips on the shot. England's best chance of the match.

60: England now come forward with Loftus-Cheek, but his cross is punched out by Courtois.

58: A comical moment was shown during this short break. Batshuayi picked up the ball after Januzaj's goal, wants to shoot it into the net, but the ball bounces off the post into his face.

57: Vermaelen stays down after meeting Vardy in the air. The centre-half's head is bleeding, so he will need to get treated by the physios.

Meanwhile in Saransk: Tunisia have tied it up! Ben Youssef strikes! 1-1.

50: Januzaj gets the ball on the edge of the box, takes on Rose, gets some space and curves the ball past Pickford. Beautiful strike. Belgium lead 1-0.

GOOOOAAAAL!!!! ADNAN JANUZAJ TAKES THE LEAD!

49: Rashford goes forward again right away. He danced past three players, but Dendockner tackled him.

49: Rashford gets an opportunity after a long throw from Rose and a one-two with Vardy. His shot went off-target.

48: Belgium have been in control early in the second half.

The second half has kicked off!

45: Substitution: Harry Maguire comes on for John Stones. Stones is getting his calf bandaged on the bench. England fans will be hoping that the centre half will be fit for Round of 16.

In Saransk, Panama lead Tunisia 1-0 in the dead rubber, both sides producing some creative football after defending for two straight games.

No clear-cut chances on either side, but both teams are driving forward, looking to score. I was quite afraid that this game would turn into a France - Denmark situation, but players came out with something to prove.

No added time for this half, and it is now half time!

42: England now had a nice run forward. Delph overlapped Rose, crossed it in. Ball bounced to Loftus-Cheek who could have gone for a shot, but his heavy first touch cost him possession.

37: Belgium get a free kick. Tielemans whips the ball in, Fellaini nods it down for Batshuayi. The ball is cleared only to Thorgan Hazard who fires it over the bar. The Fellaini/Bathsuayi connection aught to work eventually.

Meanwhile in Saransk: Correction, the goal is given as an own goal from Meriah.

Meanwhile in Saransk: Panama go ahead for the first time in this World Cup. Rodriguez gets the goal.

33: Danny Rose draws another foul, Dendockner gets booked this time.

32: It is now England that are holding onto possession. Belgium got a solid chance out of it, let's see what England do.

27: Fellaini gets a chance from the subsequent corner, but English defenders manage to block it. Thorgan Hazard gets the ball from the rebound, but can't shoot.

26: Batshuayi drives forward, managing to hold on to possession despite Stones and Cahill marking him, getting a shot away.

25: Belgium are just playing out the back, comfortable in possession, looking for gaps in England's midfield and defense. The English fans have been way more loud in the crowd.

19: Rose finds some space on the left, draws a foul from Tielemans and we see our first booking of the match!

18: Tielemans drives forward, tries to thread the ball to Batshuayi but it's blocked. England counter right away, Loftus-Cheek had to be stopped by a Fellaini foul.

15: Vardy looks for Rashford with a through ball, but Courtois claims it. It's quite nice to see, that despite all these changes, both teams seem to be going for the win to keep their momentum going.

13: Alexander-Arnold's offside is overlooked, so he can get a cross to Vardy, but it catches the striker too far out.

12: Cahill now with a chance! The centre half runs back post for a corner, but can't get it on target.

9: A scramble behind Pickford has to be saved by a Cahill goal line clearance. Januzaj is with the ball in the box, crosses it to Fellaini who nods it down for Batshuayi. The striker can't get enough on it, but Pickford struggled to hold onto the ball.

6: Aaaaand I jinxed it, Tielemans gives Pickford a hard time with a long shot, a nice strike but a better save from the Everton keeper.

5: As expected, there is no high tempo or open attacking going on. Both teams seem comfortable holding on to possession.

2: Jamie Vardy is put through but can't find Rashford with a low cross. England have been the more active of the two sides early on. 

2: It seems that Fellaini will play in an advanced position and Tielemans will play alongside Dembele.

England have kicked this match off!

Anthems have been sung, the match will be kicking off anytime now!

Less than 20 minutes until kick-off now!

Danny Welbeck is the only England outfield player to not start a match after his somewhat surprising inclusion. Defensive midfielder Eric Dier will lead England out on the pitch, quite surprisingly getting the captaincy over Gary Cahill. 

It's going to be a day of multitasking for me as I will also be providing you with score updates of the Tunisia - Panama game, which will be going on simultaneously.

England and Belgium both rotate their squad significantly, making eight and nine changes respectively. The debate leading up to the match was whether it would be better for one of the teams to lose and get drawn into the seemingly easier half, or whether they should aim to win and get more confidence despite having to face likely more difficult opposition on the way to the final. Based on the team selections, it seems that neither manager would really mind a loss, but let's hope that the players will be striving to prove themselves and fight for a starting spot next time out.

Belgium XI (3-4-3): Courtois; Dendockner, Boyata, Vermaelen; Chadli, Fellaini, Dembele, T.Hazard; Januzaj, Batshuayi, Tielemans.

England XI (3-5-2): Pickford; Jones, Stones, Cahill; Alexander-Arnold, Loftus-Cheek, Dier, Delph, Rose; Rashford, Vardy.

The lineups are out!

Official team news will be out just over an hour before kick-off, which is at 7PM BST. Stay with us until then for more updates ahead of one of the biggest games of the tournament so far, between two sides who have overcome potential upsets, two sides with the two top goalscorers in the tournament, Lukaku and Kane, and two sides with high hopes despite reserved expectations.

“I felt strongly that if we made more use of the squad we would have felt the effect of that later in the tournament. From an England view, it’s important to give the squad faith and trust,” Neville continued. “It’s conceivable that we will need [Eric] Dier at some point in the tournament, so why not give him a run out. It’s conceivable we would need to play another centre-forward and it’s important that they play well.”

Gary Neville has urged Gareth Southgate to rest some of his key players. “I’ve seen England teams blow up at the quarter-final stage where they have run out of legs, where they have not been able to see the job through,” Neville said to Sky Sports. 

Reportedly, both Hazard and de Bruyne have approached Martinez to insist that they want to start against England, but the balance of burn out is a tough one for any World Cup manager. Southgate, too, with England may choose to start some of the fringe players of the squad. Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy could come in up front, while Eric Dier could replace Jordan Henderson in midfield. Gary Cahill is an option in defence, while Danny Rose may get a chance to start ahead of Ashley Young.

In the Belgium squad, things are more precarious. Top goalscorer Lukaku suffered external ligament damage against Tunisia and will have a late fitness test to determine whether he can play. With Roberto Martinez’s side already qualified for the knockout rounds, the former-Everton boss may decide not to risk his striker over the matter of who tops the group. Eden Hazard, captain and starman, and Kevin de Bruyne, Manchester City’s ginger genius, are expected to be rested by Martinez.

England are expected to have a full-strength squad to select from to face Belgium. Dele Alli picked up a knock against Tunisia and Ruben Loftus-Cheek replaced him in the 6-1 win against Panama. The Tottenham Hotspur man could be fit for Thursday night’s game, though.

As Jonathan Norcroft wrote in the Times on Monday, at the 2014 World Cup, 11% of goals came from corners compared to an average 2-3% in the Champions League. Now, England have benefitted from set pieces hugely. Kieran Trippier’s deliveries have been superb, set-piece routines have been well thought through and produced goals, goals, goals, including two for centre-back John Stones against Panama.

Gareth Southgate is the first England manager to provide an England side that is clearly well-drilled, aware of its capabilities and weaknesses and the players on the pitch are tactically astute and flexible as well as talented. The squad, most would agree, is less talented than 10 years ago, or 20 years ago. But Southgate has moulded an impressive team that is notable for its ability to hide its weaknesses and play to its strengths. After the success of set pieces at the 2014 World Cup, England have utilised that so far.

The two facing off should prove an entertaining and close encounter. For England fans in Russia and at home, these group stages will have been better than any other for decades no matter the result against Belgium. They’ve qualified with two games to spare and two wins, having failed to secure even three points in Brazil in 2014 and not made it out of a group in the World Cup since 2006. Most importantly, things have changed in terms of performances and style.

Belgium, too, have been very impressive. Romelu Lukaku, like Kane, has been superb so far, netting two in each of the Red Devils’ first two games. While England could only beat Tunisia 2-1 in Volgograd, Belgium ran out 5-2 winners, having opened their campaign with a 3-0 win against Panama.

In Belgium, England face their biggest test thus far. For Russia, a similar feeling of positivity was felt after a 5-0 thumping of Saudi Arabia and 3-1 dismantling of Egypt. Uruguay subsequently demolished them 3-0. It will prove a wake-up call, and Southgate will hope Thursday night’s match against Belgium will not prove to be similar for his England side.

The positivity that a 6-1 victory at a World Cup brings is immeasurable, no matter the opposition, no matter the fortuity of Harry Kane’s third goal, which means he currently leads the race for the Golden Boot with five goals. Gareth Southgate tempered expectations over the last year back in England, continued to do so once the Three Lions landed in Russia and has done, and will remain insistent on doing so, in the wake of a hugely impressive victory.

“It’s coming home,” was first tagged 22 years ago. It didn’t then, it may not now, but England and their supporters are hugely positive going into their final Group G game. In a tournament of upsets (think Mexico vs Germany, Spain vs Morocco, Portugal vs Iran, Argentina vs Croatia, Iceland vs Argentina), England have thus far avoided one. Once by the skin of their teeth with a 92nd minute Harry Kane winner against Tunisia, and then with a complete destruction of Panama on Sunday lunchtime in their biggest World Cup win ever.

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