England v Belgium preview
England and Belgium could both rest players when they meet in their final World Cup Group G match in Kaliningrad on Thursday (6pm GMT).
Both sides are on six points and have already qualified for the last 16, which has resulted in debate about whether it would be better to finish first or second in the group.
The winners and runners-up will end up on different sides of the draw and could not meet again until the final.
The winner of the match will top the group while in the event of a draw, disciplinary points will decide the group winner.
England is currently ahead having picked up two yellow cards to Belgium’s three.
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez has already intimated he could make as many as nine changes for the game, but Gareth Southgate would not be drawn on how many he would make, despite confirming Eric Dier would make his first start.
“In terms of our team, I don’t want to be obstructive but I don’t want to give our opposition any help with what our team might be,” he said.
“I think the intensity of the game will be good because the players that come in when you make changes have a high level of motivation.”
“They have an opportunity, first and foremost, to play in a World Cup and they want to show what they can do because one of the key things for me is that everybody is ready to come in, not only for this game but the games beyond that.”
“We have to go out to play well in every game and to try and win every game.”
“That’s straightforward in my mind.”
Kyle Walker and Ruben Loftus-Cheek may not be risked as both have already been cautioned and would miss the following game were they to be booked again.
Southgate must also weigh up whether to select his captain Harry Kane, who remains the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals.
Belgium could rest Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard after both players suffered injuries in their previous match against Tunisia.
Martinez, who knows English football well after spells with Swansea, Wigan, and Everton, was complimentary of Gareth Southgate’s work, leading the country to wins in their first two World Cup group games for only the third time in history.
“For me, obviously, I am on the outside looking in, and what I see is Gareth Southgate has brought all his success from under-21 level and has developed an England culture,” he said.
“I think there is a clear structure, there has been a real tactical awareness, there has been a change of system to go into different qualifying games.”
“They have found a system that suits this generation.”
“There is a youth about them, an energy, a belief and a real desire.”
Eric Dier will make his first start of the tournament against Belgium with Southgate poised to make changes from the 6-1 win over Panama on Sunday.
But the England boss has stressed the need to balance resting players with building momentum after winning both of their games in Group G so far.
Dele Alli has recovered from a knock which forced him to miss that huge win, and is in line for a recall after re-joining full training this week.
Belgium top-scorer Romelu Lukaku, who has already netted four times at the tournament and spent the last six years playing his club football in England, is set to be ruled out with an injury he picked up against Tunisia.
This will be the third meeting between England and Belgium at the World Cup, with England so far unbeaten in their encounters.
They drew 4-4 in 1954 and England won 1-0 in the second round in 1990, with a volley from David Platt.
Belgium has won just one of their 21 meetings with England (D5 L15) – a 3-2 victory in May 1936.
England has already scored eight goals in the 2018 World Cup (level with 1954 and 1990).
The only time they’ve ever scored more in a single edition of the competition was in 1966 (11 goals).
Only in 1982 have England ever won all three of their group stage games in a World Cup tournament.
England’s Harry Kane has scored five goals in the group stages of this tournament.
Before 2018, the last player to score more in the first round of a single World Cup was Russia’s Oleg Salenko in 1994 (six goals).
Romelu Lukaku has scored 23 goals in 20 appearances for Belgium under manager Roberto Martinez, scoring four goals from four shots on target at this year’s World Cup.