SAINT PETERSBURG (AFP) – England manager Gareth Southgate admits the World Cup third-place play-off is a game that no team wants to play, but Saturday’s match against Belgium offers the chance to finish the tournament on a winning note.
A gut-wrenching 2-1 loss to Croatia after extra-time denied England a shot at a second World Cup triumph, instead setting up a consolation game against familiar foes Belgium.
Roberto Martinez’s side, which were beaten 1-0 by France in the last four, topped Group G ahead of England after an Adnan Januzaj goal settled a low-key encounter in Kaliningrad.
That game saw both coaches heavily rotate their teams, and a similar scenario is likely in Saint Petersburg, with several fringe players pushing for a start.
“The honest thing is, it’s not a game any team wants to play in,” said Southgate, whose side has drawn praise for the way they have briefly united a country bitterly divided over Brexit.
However, he insisted that it will not alter England’s approach as they look to achieve their best finish since they won the competition in 1966.
“We’ll want to give a performance of huge pride, there’s no question about that,” said Southgate.
“Every time we wear the shirt of our national team we want to play with pride, we want to play well and we want to win.”
Reserve goalkeepers Jack Butland and Nick Pope are the only two members of England’s 23-man squad yet to feature in Russia, as Southgate stuck with the same line-up throughout the knockout phase.
For Belgium and their “golden generation”, many of the key players should return for the 2022 World Cup, even if Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen will probably be gone by then.
Martinez, who signed an extension until after Euro 2020 in May, can guide Belgium to the nation’s best result at the World Cup. They finished fourth in 1986.
“We want to finish on a high and these players deserve to finish on a high,’’ said the Spaniard.