By contrast to some of the other groups, the only surprises in Group H at this point are the mirror images of the thumping goalfests exacted upon Tunisia and Panama by the group favourites Belgium and England. Both sides have produced attractive, effective football to amass a feast of goals, serving two of the Golden Boot’s best contenders in Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane. It falls to both sides to decide who tops the group in the final group stage encounter in Kaliningrad on the 28th June. At present, the sides share the same points, goal difference and goals, with England top of the group purely based on disciplinary record.

England vs Belgium Prediction and Preview

England’s optimism has grown exponentially in the wake of their superb 6-1 win over Panama, with many now trying to temper England’s prospects for deeper progression in the tournament. They’ve already improved on the poor showing in 2014 by managing to escape their group. Their record against Belgium is massively favourable, having lost only twice in 21 matches (including friendlies). But, as fate would have it, England haven’t played Belgium since a 1-0 friendly win in 2012, and before that, only in 1999. The 2012 group they faced was an early shade of the sublime machine Belgium have become.

Belgium, meanwhile looked poised to replicate a repeat of their 2nd best ever World Cup finish in 2014, when they reached the quarterfinal only to fall to eventual finalists Argentina. The Belgians have a considerably poor record against England in their history, but the Three Lions have yet to face this golden generation under the management of Roberto Martinez, and the sentiment remains cautiously positive of Belgium’s prospects to progress beyond the final 8. Martinez made curious comments after the win over Tunisia to indicate that he may capitalize on his deep squad to rotate and rest the players used thus far; this would seem counter-intuitive on principle. But the most unusual aspect of coming top in Group G is that as things stand, winning the group could place either Belgium or England in the quarterfinal path of Germany or Brazil, whereas 2nd place offers – with no disrespect intended to these sides – a potential quarterfinal against Mexico or Switzerland, less shrouded in big names and big reputations. As such, Group G’s 1st place decider has become as interesting a game in defeat as it is in victory.

Tactical Considerations:

Gareth Southgate’s unorthodox 3142 shape will be uniquely challenged by Belgium in a way that neither Tunisia’s relative defensive discipline and Panama’s lack of quality was able to penetrate.  If England expect to have to field a stronger side rather than to rotate, it’s likely that Stones, Maguire and Walker will remain intact in front of Pickford in goal. Curiously, Eric Dier may actually pose as a more preferable option in the anchor role in midfield with more favourable defensive cover offered as opposed to Jordan Henderson, especially with the danger of Hazard, Mertens, Dembele or Tielemans to contain. Southgate will also be sweating on the fitness of attacking midfielder Dele Alli, for whom Ruben Loftus-Cheek deputized more than adequately against Panama. England are thin on depth and experience in midfield, but this will likely play to a preferable situation of being underdogs against a talent flush Belgium. Harry Kane’s goalscoring quality is hardly in need of explanation, but feeling are ambivalent on strike partner Raheem Sterling, whose poor finishing has been balanced out by his speed, eye for good positioning and dribbling ability.

In fact, it is likely England’s options to carry the ball from midfield into attack that may play the biggest factor in a possible victory. Many are lukewarm on Martinez’s combination of Witsel and De Bruyne in midield, with the former appeared a little aged and nonchalant, and the other seemingly ill-suited in defensive respects to playing in a deeper role. Against Panama, De Bruyne was dribbled past 4 times, and only had 1 of 4 attempted tackles come off successfully; these numbers need to be contextualized against the quality of the opposition, but there’s no disputing the opportunity England have to create dangerous situations by running with the ball at Belgium to take their defenders out of the game.

England’s focus will likely be to keep De Bruyne considerably occupied with high pressure on the Belgian’s pinpoint passes, which have proved instrumental in how Belgium build up. The likes of Sterling, Dele Alli, Lingard and others are capable of sustaining an energetic press which could be the best way for England to nullify the weaknesses in their shape, largely being Henderson, (who typically doesn’t always place himself in the ideal spaces vertically on the pitch, forcing the England back 3 to retreat with passing options rather than progress up the pitch), or the space in behind Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier, ripe for Belgium wide players to exploit.

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Belgium’s tactical shape poses a slight mirror to England’s system, except that Belgium have arguably better latent defensive protection in their 3421 given that their wide players are advanced fullbacks rather than wingers. Belgium have depth in both quality and variety; to illustrate this their excellent trio of centre backs (Vertonghen, Boyata and Alderweireld) is devoid of the experienced Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen, both without a minute of football in this tournament. Their wingbacks pose a searching debate; Thomas Meunier is a natural right back, but Yannick Carrasco is hardly likely to offer defensive solidity, much less the attacking flair that made him a recognized star in his days at Monaco. Axel Witsel is a tried and tested star in central midfield, but his performances at the World Cup have left some critics wondering if his talent was adequately nourished in his recent move to China. Youri Tielemans may yet be able to play his way into the side if performances permit.

Kevin De Bruyne’s amended role, more deep lying playmaker than attacking midfielder, has proved a mixed bag of results, with both matches against Tunisia and Panama showing off his sublime passing range and incisive delivery, but some defensive frailties that England could exploit. Up front, the forward line, both on and off the field are full of talent. The spirited Dries Mertens has been a great compliment for the silk of Eden Hazard and the sheer brawn of Romelu Lukaku, with the latter adding superb finishing to his commanding box presence. Add options from the bench like Dembele, Hazard , Batshuayi and Januzaj, and it immediately becomes clear that beating Belgium isn’t just a function of making their defence work hard, but dealing with their impressive and potent attack too.

Match Facts & Summary

  England   Belgium
World Cup Base St. Petersburg Moscow
Odds – Result Win – 1.87 Draw – 2.16 Win – 1.69
2014 World Cup Finish Group Stage Quarterfinal
Total Head to Head Record (includes friendlies) 15 Wins 4 Draws 2 Wins
Total Head to Head Record (World Cup Only) 1 Win 1 Draw
Odds – To Win Group 0.65 1.10
Odds – To Win World Cup 8.25 5.00


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Our Prediction:

Both these sides have shown what they’re capable of against weaker sides on paper, and while that can be easily dismissed, there are countless other examples in other groups in this very tournament illustrating that stronger teams don’t always deliver against weaker ones. England have inherent structural issues – a young team, a tactical shape that exposes – rather than compensates – for less obvious talent in defensive midfield and the backline. They’ll have a shorter journey than Belgium to Kaliningrad, and they may well face an alternatively configured Belgium (if Martinez’ comments on rotation are to be believed). However, the difference may well be in the outset belief of the team itself; Southgate’s side is still being figured out for its international competitiveness, whereas Belgum are a noted outsider for the World Cup title, and their first team lineup speaks to the quality that a World Cup could in fact show off. For this reason, it’s hard for us to look past Belgium; even if Martinez  has little ambition to win the group due to favourable knockout fixtures in placing in 2nd place, Belgium have too many weapons that need to be managed, and too many characteristics perfectly in place to highlight England’s weaknesses.

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* Please note – odds mentioned above are subject to change, so always check the latest published odds to be fully certain before betting.

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