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England-Belgium, the battle of Kaliningrad
A day after the fall of one of the mightiest, England and Belgium battle in Kaliningrad on Thursday on the path to claiming the prize from the deposed champions Germany.
Both Gareth Southgate and Roberto Martinez – coaches of England and Belgium respectively – seized the moment of the German’s demise to underline the intensity of the competition at a World Cup.
“It has been a surprise to see them struggle as much as they have but the level of all the teams is strong," Southgate said. "They’ve played teams that have been tactically good against them. They were close to the wire against Sweden and they just weren’t able to break Korea down.”
The shock result is a lesson in not resting on your laurels, he added. “There really is no opportunity to rest on where you are as a team. We’ve learned an enormous amount from studying Germany as a team. But in sport, as in life, you’ve got to keep evolving and improving. It just shows anybody is vulnerable on any given day.”
Martinez echoed the comments of his England counterpart.
“The World Cup is a very difficult tournament," he commented. "If you don’t control the emotional aspect of the first game and you lose, it’s very difficult to stop the negative effect that it has. The World Cup is about small margins.”
Both coaches hinted in the prelude to the clash that they would make changes to the sides that have claimed maximum points. Both teams have racked up eight goals and conceded twice. England, however, lead because only one of their players, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, has been booked, while there have been two Belgian miscreants.
Southgate stressed the changes would not mean less intensity.
"We need to keep winning football matches and we want to breed a mentality that everybody in our squad wants to constantly win," he said. "England have not won a game in the knockout stages since 2006.”
The intrigue for Martinez will be which playmaker to rest without disrupting the flow of the team.
"We want to perform well but I think the priority is not to win," said Martinez. "That's the reality. We wanted to qualify, we've done that. There are players who have been in very demanding games so it's very important for us to protect and give every player the best opportunity to be in the best condition in the knockout games."