Eng­land, Bel­gium vie for third

Teams also played low-stakes match in group stage

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Soccer -

ST. PE­TERS­BURG, Rus­sia — How do you stay mo­ti­vated for the game no one wants to play? Eng­land and Bel­gium have dif­fer­ent an­swers.

Af­ter both were elim­i­nated in the World Cup semi­fi­nals, a once-in-a-life­time chance gone, the teams have to play again Satur­day in the third-place game.

As al­ways in English soc­cer, coach Gareth South­gate and his men are look­ing back to the Eng­land team that won the World Cup in 1966. Beat­ing Bel­gium on Satur­day would give Eng­land its best World Cup fin­ish since then, sur­pass­ing fourth place in Italy in 1990.

“We have a chance to win a medal at a World Cup, which only one English team has ever done, so there’s a lot of mo­ti­va­tion for us,” South­gate said Fri­day. Af­ter ex­ceed­ing ex­pec­ta­tions by reach­ing the semi­fi­nal, only to lose, 2-1, to Croa­tia in ex­tra time, Eng­land wants to keep its pos­i­tive buzz.

“None of us knows if that’s as good as it gets,” South­gate said. “We’ve raised ex­pec­ta­tion and I don’t see a prob­lem with that be­cause we’ve also raised be­lief. We’ve raised their en­joy­ment of play­ing. They now as­so­ciate play­ing for Eng­land with en­joy­ment, fun, and not be­ing un­der siege.”

For Bel­gium coach Roberto Martinez, it’s about leav­ing Rus­sia with a warm feel­ing and play­ing at­trac­tive soc­cer to in­spire the next gen­er­a­tion.

“We want to win. When you fin­ish a tour­na­ment you carry the feel­ing of the last game ... Ev­ery Bel­gian fan de­serves that win­ning feel­ing,” he said. “For us the way you play is es­sen­tial, not just for this tour­na­ment but for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

Third would be Bel­gium’s best World Cup per­for­mance. It fin­ished fourth in 1986 af­ter los­ing the play­off, 4-2, in ex­tra time to France.

Both coaches have one eye on fit­ness for what will be each team’s sev­enth game in 26 days.

South­gate said he wants to make “as few changes as pos­si­ble” but may need to switch some play­ers due to in­jury and ill­ness. He wouldn’t con­firm whether he’d give ei­ther of his re­serve goal­keep­ers, Jack But­land and Nick Pope, their first game of the tour­na­ment in place of Jor­dan Pick­ford.

“We need to have ev­ery­one fully fit on the pitch. There are play­ers who have played a lot of min­utes and we need to have that in mind,” Martinez said. “We’re go­ing to have the strong­est team on the pitch, but maybe changes will need to be made.”

It’s the sec­ond meet­ing of the tour­na­ment for the two teams.

Their first game, in the group stage, was treated al­most like a friendly be­cause both teams al­ready had qual­i­fied and made a to­tal 17 changes to the lineup. Bel­gium won that en­counter in Kalin­ingrad, 1-0, thanks to a curled shot from Ad­nan Januzaj.

Dmitri Lovetsky/As­so­ci­ated Press

Eng­land coach Gareth South­gate said the chance to win a medal is plenty of mo­ti­va­tion for his squad.

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