Medal motivation drives Southgate and England against Belgium
Both sides look to finish on a high in the third-place play-off on Saturday in Saint Petersburg
Gareth Southgate insists his Three Lions are hungry for revenge over Belgium on Saturday as they look to become the first England team to leave a World Cup with a medal since lifting the trophy in 1966.
With the disappointment of Wednesday’s semi-final defeat to Croatia still etched on English faces, Southgate and his band of young talent meet Roberto Martinez’s side for the second time in as many weeks, this time in the play-off for third place.
The country’s only previous appearance in the bronze-medal match came in 1990 when England lost 2-1 to Italy.
“In terms of mentality, it has been a very difficult couple of days for us,” said Southgate. “We were 20 minutes from a World Cup final and then in extra-time we were 10 mins from a shootout.
The reason for us being here was to achieve that big goal. We all got back to St Petersburg at 6.30am so, emotionally, it’s been a very difficult few days.”
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When the two sides met in Kaliningrad during the group stages, both managers fielded weakened teams knowing they had each already secured safe passage to the knock-out stages.
Belgium won 1-0, confirming their place at the top of Group G, but this time Southgate says he hopes to make as few changes as possible to the team that started the semi-final.
“What we need to decide is who can go again physically, he added. "Everyone wants to play, but sometimes it is not a good decision to play if the energy is not right.
"It won’t be the same 11, but we want, ideally, to make as few changes as possible. We have a chance to win a medal at a World Cup, which only one other English team has ever done. And Belgium has beaten us already so we want to rectify that as well.”
Kieran Trippier is expected to miss out after suffering minor nerve damage in his leg late on against Croatia, while Jordan Henderson, Ashley Young and Dele Alli will all be assessed.
Southgate has been lauded in his home country for bringing belief back to the England set-up, but he is keen to play down the hyperbole that has been generated around his team.
Before their first semi-final in 28 years earlier this week, it was put to him that his team — ranked 12th in the world by Fifa at the start of the tournament — is now one of the best four on the planet.
He dismissed it immediately and, ahead of the tie with third-ranked Belgium, elaborated further.
“I suspect when the next rankings come out, we will be back in the top 10 and that is probably where we are,” he said. “I don’t think we are in the top four or five yet, but we are progressing. We are probably outside the top five, but can be competitive against those teams.
“[Belgium] will want to finish well and we are very keen to do the same. It will be a good test for us. We have not been able to beat these top teams yet, so we need to take every opportunity we get.”
Martinez celebrated his 45th birthday on Friday with his squad creating a tunnel before playfully pushing and punching their manager as he passed through it.
“It’s always our ritual,” said midfielder Axel Witsel. “We went easy on the coach, of course, but we want to give him a great birthday present and finish in the third place.”
While neither team will be leaving with the World Cup, the Golden Boot remains a possibility for Harry Kane, who has six goals, and Romelu Lukaku, who has scored two less.
Martinez, however, said he and his players refuse to let individual awards cloud their judgement.
“We don’t look at that kind of thing,” he said. "Other awards are more interesting for us — to finish third would be our best ever finish at a World Cup and that would be an achievement we would salute far more than any individual awards.”
Updated: July 14, 2018 11:47 AM