Belgium and England prepare for ′the match no team wants to play in′ | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 13.07.2018
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Belgium and England prepare for 'the match no team wants to play in'

World Cup semifinalists Belgium and England meet in the third-place play-off in St Petersburg on Saturday. With strikers Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane going head to head, it could determine the winner of the Golden Boot.

Louis Van Gaal doesn't like third-place play-off matches at World Cups.

"The worst thing is that you can end up losing twice in a row and finish a great tournament as losers," raged the former Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Netherlands boss in Brazil four years ago. "It's got nothing to do with sport!"

The "game for the golden pineapple," as the match is traditionally mocked in Germany, is a game nobody wants to play in, but defeated semifinalists  Belgium and England will have no choice in St. Petersburg on Saturday night (Kick-off 16:00 CET).

And despite Van Gaal's derision, some of the protagonists do have quite a lot to play for.

Finish on a high

For Belgium, a second victory over England, who they already beat 1-0 in their final group game, would see the Red Devils achieve their best ever World Cup finish – a fitting achievement for what has been described as a golden generation.

"We want to win it for the fans but also for ourselves," said midfielder Axel Witsel, with captain Vincent Kompany adding: "After all, it's something Belgium has never achieved before."

The last time Belgium played in this match was in Mexico in 1986, when Les Diables Rouges, including Bayern Munich goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, finished fourth after losing to France.

"We want to inspire the next generation with our style of football, our typically Belgian style," said coach Roberto Martinez, "so third place is definitely a motivation."

The Spaniard celebrated his 45th birthday on Friday and Witsel said the players want to "give him a victory to finish off the World Cup."

Fußball WM 2018 Brasilien - Belgien | Roberto Martinez (picture-alliance/BELGA/D. Waem)

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez is determined to end the World Cup on a high

Battle for the Golden Boot

But it's not just Martinez who has reason to deliver a performance; there is a lot at stake for other individuals, too.

Striker Romelu Lukaku still harbors hopes of winning the Golden Boot, having already found the net four times at this tournament – two goals less however than his English counterpart Harry Kane.

France's Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann, who will play in the final against Croatia on Sunday night, each have three.

Still, Martinez wants his players to play as a team. "[Lukaku] is there to help the team, not for individual awards," he said. "For us, the only focus is coming third."

Fußball WM 2018 Kroatien vs England (Getty Images/R. Pierse)

England's Harry Kane is leading the race for the Golden Boot with six goals

Time for England to beat a big team

While Martinez is determined to end the tournament on a high, England head coach Gareth Southgate is striking a more relaxed tone – despite England having the chance to record their second-best World Cup finish.

"To be honest, it's not a game that any team really wants to play," said the 47-year-old, who has been the subject of a celebratory chant from grateful England supporters. "But we owe it to ourselves and to the fans to finish with a win. We want a medal, and not everyone gets that chance."

England exceeded expectations by reaching the semifinal with an inexperienced team – but they have had a relatively straight-forward route to the final, beating Tunisia and Panama in the group stage, Colombia (on penalties) in the last-16 and Sweden in the quarters. In fact, the only other teams the Three Lions have beaten in World Cup knock-out games since winning the tournament in 1966 are Paraguay, Belgium, Cameroon, Denmark and Ecuador – and Southgate believes it's time England beat a big team.

"Belgium have been on a brilliant journey and will want to finish well," he said. "There are some excellent footballers on show and it will be a good test for us. We haven't beaten one of these top teams yet, so we have to take every opportunity we get."

When the teams met in Kaliningrad earlier in the tournament, both had already qualified for the last-16 and both coaches effectively fielded B-teams. Martinez said Belgium "will only play fit players" but, after England fullbacks Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young picked up knocks, Southgate confirmed that "it won't be the same starting eleven as the semifinal but we want to make as few changes as possible."

Either way, both teams will want to finish on a high note, just like Holland did when they beat hosts Brazil in this match four years ago. And even Louis Van Gaal was forced to crack a smile.

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