Finishing campaign on a high is the goal

Marcus Rashford giving England team-mate Kyle Walker the slip during training. The striker may get Gareth Southgate's nod to start up front and lead England's attack in their third-place play-off against Belgium, having missed a good scoring opportun
Marcus Rashford giving England team-mate Kyle Walker the slip during training. The striker may get Gareth Southgate's nod to start up front and lead England's attack in their third-place play-off against Belgium, having missed a good scoring opportunity when the two sides met in the group stage.PHOTO: REUTERS

Southgate denies he will field a weakened team against Belgium in battle for third spot

3RD-PLACE PLAY-OFF

Belgium v England

Singtel TV Ch141 & StarHub Ch222, 10pm


ST PETERSBURG • Today's World Cup third-place play-off is the game no team want to play, with only pride at stake and the pain of coming so near, yet so far still lingering.

But, while England manager Gareth Southgate has revealed that it's been "really difficult" for his side to deal with the hangover after Wednesday's 2-1 semi-final loss in extra time to Croatia, there will be no wholesale changes made for the match at St Petersburg Stadium.

The 23-man team all trained yesterday at their Repino base and with no major injury doubts, Southgate says his selection will be based primarily on the fitness of individuals, dismissing suggestions he would give most of his fringe players a run-out.

"We've set the standard of how we work, the standard of how we play, and we want to maintain those standards right to the end. The players did that this morning in training," he said at his pre-match press conference yesterday.

SCANT CONSOLATION

If I get the Golden Boot, I get it, but that wasn't the trophy I was looking for. But we will try to play with as much pride as we can and finish on a high.

HARRY KANE, England captain, is not fussed about the tournament's top-scorer award. He leads Belgium's Romelu Lukaku by two goals in the standings.

"We have to decide who can go again physically. Everyone wants to play. Everyone trained this morning. Sometimes it's not always a good decision to play if people's energy isn't quite there.

"It won't be exactly the same starting XI, but we want ideally to make as few changes as possible."

"(There are) one or two injuries, one or two with a bit of illness. But we have high motivation to perform and finish with a medal at a World Cup, which only one English team have ever done (the 1966 winners). We'd like to redress having lost to Belgium once before already (the 1-0 defeat in the group stage)," he added.

The 47-year-old confessed falling short of glory had been tough on his young squad, with an average age of 25.6, the joint-second lowest of any team in Russia after Nigeria.

"In terms of mentality, it's obviously been a really difficult couple of days for us. We were 20 minutes from a World Cup final and then, in extra time, 10 minutes from a shoot-out to get to a World Cup final. The reason for us being here was to achieve that big goal.

"We got back to St Petersburg at 6.30am on the day after the game, so it has been an emotion-fuelled few days. But the players are incredible. They're a pleasure to work with. Their energy and desire to finish the tournament well, we owe it as much to ourselves as to our nation to finish well," he said.

Southgate added that Belgium were also keen to end their World Cup on a high note, with the Three Lions' big-game pedigree still relatively untested.

"Belgium have had an exceptional tournament... They will want to finish well but so will we. It'll be a good test for us and we haven't been able to beat these top teams yet," he said.

One player who will be keen to play will be England forward Harry Kane, who is currently the World Cup top scorer on six goals and is the favourite to win the Golden Boot award. His Belgium counterpart, Romelu Lukaku, is two goals back.

Despite acknowledging the hollow nature of the accolade even if he wins it and the anti-climactic feeling surrounding the play-off, Kane still wants to feature.

"If I get the Golden Boot, I get it, but that wasn't the trophy I was looking for. But we will try to play with as much pride as we can and finish on a high," he added.

REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2018, with the headline 'Finishing campaign on a high is the goal'. Print Edition | Subscribe