Straight talk time. The World Cup Third Place Playoff is probably the saddest, most useless game in the whole football season calendar. The match no team would like to be playing, having just lost the chance to be part of the real deal that happens the following day. Belgium and England found themselves facing each other again after meeting in the Group Stage, and once again the Belgians prevailed, this time with the goals by Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard.
Nobody could expect a grudge match in Saint Petersburg, between two disappointed and tired sides. But the game served at least the purpose of showing the English that they may finally have a found a not-so-bad goalkeeper: Jordan Pickford took another chance to shine, saying no to the Red Devils in at least two clear occasions. After a flawless World Cup, might it be time for the 24-year-old to leave Everton and join some club with higher European ambitions?
If one needed at least a good reason to watch the Finalina (“The Little Final,” as Italians put it), the direct confrontation between the two top scorers of the tournament – Harry Kane with 6 goals, and Romelu Lukaku with 4 – could have made for one. Yet, both strikers failed to increase their scoring tally, and if the Belgian Lukaku did at least try on his part, Kane vanished after wasting an easy chance on a service by Raheem Sterling.
Hurricane Kane’s drought thus casted new shadows over the validity of his title. Out of his 6 goals at World Cup 2018, 3 came from the penalty spot, and one was totally unintentional. After the winning Round of 16 match with Colombia, it was radio silence from the Tottenham forward. Not that the rival Lukaku did any better, scoring 4 goals in the first two matches with Panama and Tunisia (not the toughest opposition, will all due respect), and then nothing more.
If somebody came stronger and with a more solid reputation after today’s game, those were the Belgian pixies Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, who literally drove the Albion’s defense crazy with their fast passes and counterattacks. Chelsea’s striker also put his mark on the match, scoring the second goal that put an end to the remaining – if any – hopes for the Three Lions of catching at least the 3rd place.
Belgium gave a clear direction to the game already in the 4th minute, when Thomas Meunier finalized for the best an action that should be shown in every Counterattack 101 class. Romelu Lukaku opened for Nacer Chadli, whose cross from the left found the Paris Saing Germain midfielder’s winning deflection.
England went close to make it even in the second half, with a penetration in the box by Eric Dier. The British number 4 put the ball past Thibaut Courtois, but found defender Toby Alderweireld’s clearance almost on the goal line. Then control of the game passed in the hands of the Belgians again, with a wonderful exchange between De Bruyne and Hazard. The final cross from Hazard was for Meunier again, but his shot was deflected by a monumental Pickford.
De Bruyne and Hazard played the same script a few minutes later, but this time the Chelsea player decided to go for the shot himself, zapping the English goalie with a quick sharp execution. Belgium put the bronze medals around their neck, which still makes for the best result every achieved by them in a World Cup – as in 1986, they lost the Third Place match 2-4 to France. England ended out of the podium, but nobody saw them ripping their hair out at that. The real World Cup, for both teams, had already ended two days earlier.
July 14, 2018 – World Cup Third Place Playoff
SCORERS: 4′ Meunier, 82′ E. Hazard
|BELGIUM (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Kompany, Vertonghen; Meunier, Witsel, Tielemans (78′ Dembélé), Chadli (39′ Vermaelen); De Bruyne, Hazard; Lukaku 60′ Mertens) (Mignolet, Casteels, Boyata, Dendoncker, Fellaini, T. Hazard, Carrasco, Batshuayi, Januzaj) Coach: Martinez|
|ENGLAND (3-4-2-1): Pickford; Rose (46′ Lingard), Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Jones, Delph, Dier, Loftus-Cheek (84′ Alli); Sterling (46′ Rashford); Kane (Butland, Pope, Walker, Cahill, Henderson, Jones, Vardy, Welbeck, Young, Alexander-Arnold) Coach: Southgate|
REFEREE: Ferghani (Iran)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Witsel (B), Stones, Maguire (I)
Click below to relive some of Belgium and England’s previous games at World Cup 2018: