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In recent years it’s been at this stage of major international tournaments that the England bunting and flags adorning cars up and down the country begin to get taken down. After some hugely disappointing performances when it really matters, things feel different this time around though.
Gareth Southgate’s England are young, they’re dynamic and they’ve been winning the PR battle for hearts and minds (even if the British press predictably did their bit to sour those relations by undermining Steve Holland thanks to ‘leak-gate’). The Three Lions have also got off to their best ever start at a World Cup thanks to a battling 2-1 over Tunisia and their 6-1 thumping of Panama on Sunday.
With all due respect to England’s first two opponents, Thursday’s match against Belgium is when Southgate’s men really start to get tested. The Belgians have an identical record to England in Group G and were many punters’ pick to win the tournament outright. Both Southgate and his opposite number, Roberto Martinez, will make a changes to their team to keep key players fresh but that won’t diminish from a match which could tell us a lot about England’s chances in Russia.
England 17/10 (Bet365)
Belgium 2/1 (Betfred)
Draw 21/10 (888Sport)
(Please note all odds shown are correct at time of article publishing)
There is some confusion over whether finishing top or second of Group G would give England an easier potential run through the knockout stages. Southgate isn’t worried about what might happen though, he’s just interested in ensuring England keep the wins coming.
The bookies appear to think that England are capable of sticking to that task. However, a word of caution is required. The patriotic betting that was so absent at the start of the World Cup has returned thanks largely to England’s performance against Panama and the bookies have cut their prices accordingly. Who knows how far England will go in Russia? What we do know is that Belgium are very dangerous opponents and for that reason England do look a little short at a best price of 17/10.
The draw looks a better option at 21/10 with 888Sport. Both teams have tons of fire power but defences that have yet to really convince. They’ll both have chances (both teams to score is a good bet at 8/11 with William Hill), they’ll both have players desperate to impress and the likelihood of the final Group G match ending in a stalemate is decent.
Draw 1-1 @ 5/1 (Coral)
England 1-0 @ 17/2 (Bet365)
Draw 0-0 @ 17/2 (Coral)
Belgium 1-0 @ 9/1 (Bet365)
England 2-1 @ 9/1 (Sportingbet)
Belgium 2-1 @ 10/1 (Unibet)
The 1-1 draw is the obvious option in the Correct Score betting. Even if the expected changes disrupt the patterns of play a little there is just too much attacking quality in both the England and Belgium squads to think that the match will pass without action in both penalty boxes. It could, however, be worth taking a slightly bigger risk and siding with the 2-2 correct score at a tempting 14/1 with Ladbrokes.
Roberto Martinez has suggested in his pre-match press conferences that he believes giving as many players as possible a taste of World Cup football is more important than this one game. It remains to be seen whether he is playing mind games or if he goes whole hog by making 10 changes. Whatever the number of changes is, the Belgium team that takes to the pitch will be full of players who have a chance to catch the eye and we think they’ll be able to score against England.
Similarly, Southgate is likely to give Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford a start against Belgium. With Eric Dier slotting in alongside Jordan Henderson, England look set to sit a little deeper and utilise their pace in behind a Belgium defence which plays quite high. We have an interesting tactical contest on our hands which could well end in a high scoring draw.
Harry Kane 7/2 (Bet365)
Romelu Lukaku 9/2 (Paddy Power)
Jamie Vardy 5/1 (Sportingbet)
Marcus Rashford 13/2 (Unibet)
Michy Batshuayi 7/1 (Bet365)
Eden Hazard 15/2 (888Sport)
Danny Welbeck 8/1 (Bet365)
Raheem Sterling 17/2 (Unibet)
Romelu Lukaku has picked up a minor knock and has been rested during training so don’t expect the Belgium striker to close the gap with Harry Kane in the Golden Boot race. It’s less clear whether Kane will get a chance to start. Southgate is understandably keen to wrap his star striker up in cotton wool but Kane wants to play every minute he can and may get his wish to start.
Kane has come on leaps and bounds in the two years since his disappointing Euro 2016 campaign and could well outscore the world’s best in Russia so back him to score first at 7/2 with Bet365.
The Draw at 21/10 with 888Sport
2-2 correct score at 14/1 with Ladbrokes
Harry Kane to score first at 7/2 with Bet365