Gareth Southgate might dress like that cool Geography teacher you had who liked indie music and the same comedy shows as you, but his pupils have been treating him more like a hapless supply teacher recently. Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood were sent home during the last international break after breaching the team’s Covid-19 protocols. Still, they scored more than England did, as the Three Lions scraped past Iceland 1-0 thanks to a last-minute penalty (and their hosts then missing one), before drawing a blank in Denmark.
And preparations for the triple header with Wales, Belgium and the Danes were disrupted by Tammy Abraham, Ben Chilwell and Jadon Sancho. That trio were at Abraham’s 23rd birthday party last weekend with more than six people. Southgate has also lost Raheem Sterling to injury since the squad was announced, and he needs to get his squad of 30 in order pronto if England are to have a hope of reaching the Nations League finals in October 2021.
Sunday October 11, 5pm
Sky Sports Football
While England created little of note against Iceland and Denmark, Belgium breezed past those sides 5-1 and 2-0 respectively in the last international break. Roberto Martinez’ boys have also had the better of the recent meetings with England. The only times the nations have played each other is in the last eight years, and both occurred at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Belgium won 1-0 in the Group Stage, and then 2-0 in the third/fourth place play-off.
The last Englishman to score a competitive goal against the Belgians was David Platt, when love had the world in motion. That remains England’s only win in the five previous competitive meetings. Both sides played friendlies on Thursday night, but they were so experimental they were more like free jazz gigs. The England starting XI against Wales had fewer caps for their country between them than their manager, which says it all really, and those games won’t really have any bearing here.
There isn’t too much difference in the odds between the three match outcomes, but it’s hard not to agree with Paddy that Belgium are the narrow favourites. This might be a match between FIFA’s first and fourth-ranked teams, but the Belgians are further ahead of England than those standings would suggest.
One of the many hard aspects of predicting international football matches is the disparity in the standard of opposition that each country faces in their relatively light fixture schedules. England have proven this. They often win to nil against the smaller nations but get embroiled in goal fests against the top sides. Look at their results since the last World Cup if you don’t believe me.
4-0 against Kosovo! 6-0 against Bulgaria! 7-0 against Montenegro! Take that, European minnows! With their recent results against Iceland, Denmark and Wales on top of those previous three matches, there has been at least one-nil in each of England’s last six games.
Yet in the last two years they also lost 2-1 to Spain and Czech Republic, and 3-1 to the Netherlands, though they did beat the Spaniards 3-2 to readdress the balance somewhat. But the common theme has been goals, and there should be several more here.
This match appears to be a straight shoot-out between Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku in the goal scorer market. They were both given the night off for the midweek friendlies so should be fresh here. The former carries the bulk of the goals in the current England squad – he has 32 for the Three Lions from 47 appearances. Top politician Marcus Rashford got into double figures by scoring in his last run out for England, but nobody else in the squad has more than three goals for the national side.
Where Kane has scored every 114 minutes for his country, Lukaku has netted every 99 for Belgium, and over a longer period too. The Inter Milan man is in a select group of 15 current players who have at least 50 international goals under their belts, and – like Kane – he has already scored three league goals in 2020/21.
Naturally neither man found the net when these teams last met, as Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard got the goals. But they are understandably the favourites to do so here, and if we’re backing Belgium then it makes sense to opt for Lukaku.
England v Belgium tips
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