比利时“黄金一代”赢得2018年世界杯铜牌

Belgium Finish With a Flourish at FIFA 2018

Belgium 2-0 England

If you had told these nations a month ago they would still both be in Russia during the final weekend of FIFA 2018, they would have bitten your hand off.

And certainly, England have surpassed and Belgium matched FIFA 2018 predictions and expectations by being here.

Yet while all that is true, their Russian odyssey finally ended with a match few wanted to play in.

The dead rubber of a third/fourth play-off which, after their respective semi-final defeats to Croatia and France, both probably felt unmotivated to play.

Highlights of the game

But play they did. And while the pace was a little lacking at times, the intention of both sides to gain the honour of third place was clear.

From the outset in St Petersburg, in fact.

It took only three minutes and 37 seconds for Belgium to open the scoring when Thomas Meunier, returning from a suspension which kept him out of the semi-final, poked home with pace after Romelu Lukaku and Nacer Chadli teamed up.

Both managers, Gareth Southgate and Robert Martinez, were as good as their word pre-match and named strong line-ups with Golden Boot favourite Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku (two goals behind) both starting.

After playing his part in the opener, Lukaku could have doubled the Belgian lead but mis-controlled while Kane hit the ball into the ground and narrowly wide after being teed up by Raheem Sterling.

A fine block by John Stones denied Eden Hazard a likely second. With tired minds and tired bodies understandable, Southgate rang the changes at half-time with the introduction of Man Utd duo Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, making them look a more dangerous proposition.

SBOBET fans of Kane would have been thrilled when Belgium brought off Lukaku, his nearest challenger at the top of the scoring charts, to be replaced by Dries Mertens.

The future is bright for England in FIFA 2018

Harry Kane will be awarded the Golden Boot for the 2018 World Cup IF Kylian Mbappe or Antoine Griezmann failed to score a hatrick on Sunday

Unless Antoine Griezmann or Kylian Mbappe runs riot in Moscow, Kane seems set to get the gong and become the first English winner since Gary Lineker in 1986 (although not Kane’s fault, it should be tempered by the fact five of his six goals came against Panama and Tunisia).

It looked like the Three Lions would get the equaliser their pressure merited when Eric Dier beat his man and clipped the ball over Thibaut Courtois only for his Spurs team-mate at club level, Toby Alderweireld, to hook the ball to safety.

Dier and Harry Maguire both went close with headers, and Pickford produced a superb save to deny Meunier his second from a powerful volley.

Moments later, however, it was left to Hazard to provide the real quality as he teamed up with Kevin de Bruyne and, in scenes reminiscent of last season’s FA Cup Final, left Phil Jones in his wake before tucking the ball beyond Jordan Pickford.

Game over, bronze medal secured and tournament over for the best Belgian side ever, according to the statistics. A side which, even before today, had made a nation proud.

Hazard certainly would get my vote for player of the tournament, although that is likely to go to someone from the finalists.

England finish fourth, equalling their best ever achievement at an overseas World Cup (Italia 90) and rekindling the nation’s affection for the national team.

Euro 2020 is next, with the semi-finals and final due to be played at Wembley, but two years is a long time in football.

A new-look qualification campaign begins in March 2019.

So the World Cup ends for two countries who both did themselves proud but can be forgiven for wondering what might have been.

Key statistics

A FIFA 2018 news stat: Thomas Meunier’s goal was the fastest scored by a Belgium player in the history of the World Cup.

He was also the 10th player to score for them at this tournament. Belgium have the joint-most different scorers for a team at a single World Cup (matching France in 1982 and Italy in 2006).

Belgium held the record for the most knockout games at a World Cup without a clean sheet (14). No other side has played more than seven knockout matches without at least one shut-out. They have got one now!

This was the first time since the 2002 World Cup (Brazil and Turkey) that two nations had met each other twice in the same tournament.

What’s next?

Belgium secured a third place finish in FIFA 2018 with a 2-0 win over England in Saturday's play-off game

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez watches England head coach Gareth Southgate during the third place match

It’s homeward bound for both these nations after a long but successful World Cup.

Both can be proud of their progress.

The key question now is can they take it to the next level and reach the final of a major tournament.

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