Weblog: The football punter

Motivated England set to go for World Cup victory

Group G
ITV, 7pm Thursday

The prize of finishing top of Group G might not be worth fighting for but England are not in the mood to play for a tactical draw or defeat and can get the better of Belgium in Kaliningrad.

By the time the match kicks off, Group H will be settled and the teams will know the value of finishing first or second.

Colombia look the obvious team to avoid, while Japan or Senegal might be seen as favourable round-of-16 opponents.

But England manager Gareth Southgate is unlikely to leave his team selection until the Group H matches have finished (just two hours before kick-off in Kaliningrad) and will probably resist the temptation to make wholesale changes.

He has spoken of his desire to win the group and maintain the positive vibe created by victories over Tunisia (2-1) and Panama (6-1).

The players on yellow cards – Kyle Walker and Ruben Loftus-Cheek - are likely candidates to be rested and there may be a temptation to hand starts to Gary Cahill, Eric Dier and Danny Rose, who have been close to selection and may be needed at a later stage in the tournament.

But it looks like being a strong England side and one who should have a decent chance against a Belgian team who are likely to bear little resemblance to the line-ups who dispatched Panama (3-0) and Tunisia (5-2).

Roberto Martinez has been open about his intention to make wholesale changes and hasn't ruled out changing every outfield player.

The three booked Belgians - Kevin De Bruyne, Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Meunier – are not expected to play and minor injuries are likely to rule out Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens.

It means an opportunity for the Belgian fringe players, plus Vincent Kompany, who is back in training and pushing for his first appearance of the tournament.

Belgium's squad strength is about to be put to the test and it is an assignment they are likely to fail.

There are a few top-notch players waiting in the wings – notably Kompany and Mousa Dembele, who has bossed the Tottenham midfield in recent seasons.

But there are also some potential weak links which England could expose.

Thomas Vermaelen has not played much football in recent seasons – failing to register more than 14 league appearances in a campaign since leaving Arsenal four years ago. His sharpness is in question and Kompany could be rusty, having played just 54 minutes in the last seven weeks.

The defensive concerns do not stop there with Nacer Chadli in line to replace Meunier at right wing-back.

Chadli is used to playing much further forward at club level and had a miserable season at West Brom, scoring one goal in five league appearances.

Belgium have better depth further up the pitch but the absences of Eden Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku would hurt any team.

England look less reliant on a core of key players, although confidence in the Three Lions would decrease if Harry Kane were left out.

However, England are growing into the tournament and look a solid bet to make it three wins from three against an understrength Belgium.


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Match in Focus

19:45 Tu 16Oct SKY

Ireland v Wales

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Ireland have won one of their last eight matches.
Expert verdict
Ireland were held to a dull 0-0 draw by a Denmark team missing Christian Eriksen on Saturday and may suffer another stalemate against Wales in Dublin. Only a victory would breathe life into Ireland's hopes of winning League B, Group 4 but they are hard to fancy, having failed of win any of their last four competitive games.