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Belgium vs. England 2018 World Cup third place playoff


Harry Kane and friends will try to hold on for one more win. (Georgi Licovski/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

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Belgium vs. England

Third place playoff, St. Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg

“The last thing players will want to do as the dust settles on their semifinal exits is contemplate a meaningless match to compete for a largely pointless prize.” — Louis van Gaal, who managed the Netherlands to its 2014 third-place win.

It’s a game that does not prompt the question of “who?” or “when?” More often than not, the question surrounding the match is “why?”

Playing for third.

Belgium and England, fresh off historically disheartening losses, must play again for the glory of bronze in the 2018 World Cup. The match is about very minor bragging rights and, for FIFA, additional gate revenue at the expense of teams that just want to go home.

But the truth is that people watch it. Television rating are usually strong — the World Cup addicts, perhaps, beginning to ween themselves off their drug of choice with only a pair of games to play — and usually well-contested.

Since first played in the 1934 tournament, the match has been used to set world rankings, give young players their first taste of the World Cup and decide the coveted goal-scoring crown known as the Golden Boot.

That happened just the second time the game was played. In 1938, Brazil faced Sweden and the canarinho star, Leonidas, scored twice to secure the scoring title.

Twenty years later, France’s Just Fontaine used the match to extend his goals lead. He scored four in the match against West Germany, ending the tournament with 13, a record that has only been semi-seriously challenged once (by Gerd Mueller, who in 1970 needed a hat trick in the third-place game to tie Fontaine but was shut out for the first time in the tournament.)

This year the tournament’s two scoring leaders — England’s Harry Kane and Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku — may feature.

Will they? Managers often use the third-place game to give players who have yet to see time on the field an opportunity to experience the World Cup.

The other thing about this match is that it very often has a lot of goals, the result of having the mountains of pressure lifted from players for the first in weeks.

The verdict is out on whether the third-place game has a salutary “getting back on the horse” effect for despondent teams.

The West Germans won the third-place game in 1970 and went on to win it all four years later. But the Dutch didn’t get the same lift in 2014.

“This game should never be played,” Dutch Manager Louis van Gaal said. “I’ve been saying it for the past 10 years.”

It was played, and his team beat the Brazilians, still reeling from the 7-1 semifinal loss to Germany, by a score of 3-0.

The Netherlands failed to qualify for this World Cup. Brazil? Flamed out in the quarters.

When: Saturday, 10 a.m. Eastern.

How to watch on TV: Fox.

How to stream online: Fox Sports, the Fox Soccer Match Pass apps and FoxSportsGo.com.

How to watch in Spanish: Telemundo.

How to watch in Canada: Bell Media’s TSN and CTV networks, the TSN GO app and TSN.ca/live.

Team Profiles

Belgium

  • Previous results: In group play, defeated Panama, 3-0; defeated Tunisia, 5-2; defeated England, 1-0. Defeated Japan, 3-2, in the round of 16. Defeated Brazil, 2-1, in the quarterfinals. Lost to France, 1-0, in the semifinals.
  • Best World Cup finish: Fourth place, 1986.
  • Notable: Belgium remains the World Cup’s top scoring team, with 14 goals in its six matches.
  • FIFA world ranking: 3. ELO world ranking: 3.

England

  • Previous results: In group play, defeated Tunisia 2-1; defeated Panama 6-1; lost to Belgium 1-0. Defeated Colombia in the round of 16 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw. Defeated Sweden, 2-0, in the quarterfinals. Lost to Croatia, 2-1, in the semifinals.
  • Best World Cup finish: Champion, 1966.
  • Notable: England had the second youngest squad at this year’s World Cup.
  • FIFA world ranking: 12. ELO world ranking: 7.

Players to watch

The starting lineups are likely to change — perhaps significantly — from each side’s semifinal match. This makes any forecast a cloudy one. But if they play, all eyes will be on England’s Harry Kane and Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku, possibly the best reasons to watch this consolation game. Kane leads the Golden Boot standings with six goals, while Lukaku has four. Lukaku has scored all of his from open play. But he has failed to score since the tournament’s second game, a cold streak that contributed to Belgium’s semifinal shutout against the French. Half of Kane’s goals have come from the penalty spot. His last goal came in the round-of-16 match against Colombia — from the penalty spot.

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