Thursday 20 September 2018

Five key issues ahead of England versus Belgium

Changes are likely but Kane and Kompany have points to prove.

England are preparing to face Belgium on Thursday (Owen Humphreys/PA)
England are preparing to face Belgium on Thursday (Owen Humphreys/PA)

By Rory Dollard, Press Association Sport, Kaliningrad

England and Belgium wrap up Group G on Thursday, with both sides already assured of a place in the last 16 but first and second place still to be decided.

Here Press Association Sport looks at the pressing issues ahead of the fixture.

Bragging rights or best route?

ipanews_27b9ba2f-c331-428f-b35a-d5f45d5186db_embedded234741702
Raheem Sterling (left) and Kevin de Bruyne (right) are more used to being team-mates than rivals (Martin Rikett/PA)

As soon as it became clear the runners-up spot might offer a gentler path of progression in the tournament, questions began to surface as to whether either side would really want to win in Kaliningrad. Although there is valid logic to that line of enquiry it ignores the fact that the squads of England and Belgium contain a total of 35 Premier League players, plus four more who have experience of the division. That adds up to a lot of established rivalry, club friendships and chances for one-upmanship and they will not be passed up lightly. The likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham are all represented in both dressing rooms and the match will have been discussed at training for months.

Changing of the guard

ipanews_27b9ba2f-c331-428f-b35a-d5f45d5186db_embedded236732714
Eric Dier is one of several players set for their first start of the tournament (Nick Potts/PA)

The likelihood that both teams will indulge in significant rotation has been well-trailed, with some players likely to be wrapped in cotton wool, others rested for conditioning reasons and no risks likely to be taken with those on yellow cards. The real question is how high the total number of changes will reach. If it approaches FA Cup third round territory, what looked like one of the group stage’s most interesting contests could lose some of its A-list lustre.

Can Kane keep it up?

With five goals in the first two games, Harry Kane has truly arrived on the international stage and has made it perfectly clear he wants to continue riding his hot streak against Belgium. Gareth Southgate’s instincts might be more cautious as he eyes the knockout stage but it looks increasingly likely his captain’s hunger will win the day. He is just one away from Gary Lineker’s six-goal salvo at Italia 90 and will want as many chances as possible to overhaul it.

Good Kompany?

Vincent Kompany’s physical frailties cost him a place at Euro 2016 and briefly looked like denying him a place in Russia too. He has been managing a groin problem in the early stages of the tournament but has been passed as ‘medically fit’ for the Group G decider. If the Manchester City captain is to play any part in the business end of the competition he probably needs to prove his sharpness now. For him, more than most, this could be a crucial 90 minutes.

Throwing cautions to the wind

ipanews_27b9ba2f-c331-428f-b35a-d5f45d5186db_embedded235468945
Will a yellow card decide England’s knockout route? (Stephen Pond/PA)

If the teams are level pegging as the game winds towards its climax, do not be surprised if attention turns to the referee. With the teams tied on points, goal difference and goals scored, the group winners would be determined by disciplinary points. England are currently marginally ahead on that metric and it could be telling if either side produce a slew of rash or cynical challenges late on. As well as the calibre of likely opposition, Belgium are said to be happier with the travel arrangements attached to second place and a couple of yellow cards could be enough to secure it.

Press Association

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport