World Cup Preview: Belgium v England

Who? Belgium - England
Where? Krestovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg
When? July 14, 16:00 (CET local time)

Belgium (Omri Tancman)

The last time Belgium and England met was a couple of weeks ago. In the final match of group H, Belgium and England sent their substitutes to the pitch and let their starters to rest. Here they meet again and one player who will be glad to receive the same opportunity he had in the group stage is Adnan Januzaj.

Not so long ago, Januzaj was considered as the future of Belgian football and as potential world-class superstar. In the season of 2013-2014 Januzaj emerged as a promising wonder kid for Manchester United. However, a series of bad performances and moreover, unsuccessful spells of loans led to a situation in which Januzaj is considered a bit like yesterday’s news. It is funny to say such thing on a 23 years old player but it is one of the symptoms of modern football.

Januzaj represents modern football in other ways as well. Current modern European football is overloaded with players having double and sometimes even triple nationalities, which can chose for who they want to play in their international career. Januzaj took this trend to the limit, and in early stages of his career he had the option to play for no less than 7 different countries. Januzaj’s family and especially his father were very vocal about the issue and the main dilemma was between Belgium and Kosovo, Januzaj’s father’s place of birth.

Januzaj chose eventually to represent Belgium and he was expected to be already one of the leading stars of the team. However, this has not happened yet. Maybe the upcoming match against England can join the previous and will create an awkward restart for Januzaj’s career.

England (Yossi Medina)

It's the end of the English dreams. They already touched it, felt that this is their chance, but England lost against Croatia and didn't qualified for the World Cup final. Yet, England can be proud in their performance during this tournament and now they need to look forward.

A quick look on the English squad can tell the story of their bright future. Harry Kane was the captain of the team at the age of 24 and many other players are younger than 26. The squad is composed of many players that will probably play be part of the next campaigns of England and will lead them to their next success.

More than the current squad, England is working hard for building the team. In the last year, England made history as their youth teams won both U-20 and U-17 World Cups. Some of the players that played at the U-20 World Cup final against Venezuela already played at the Premier league such as the winning goal scorer, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and one of the dominant players in this tournament, Dominic Solanke.

It's part of a long-term plan of the FA. England realized that in order to reach the level they wish, they need to work harder. While other European countries such as France, Spain and Belgium made tremendous progress, England kept by somehow their old-fashioned style. These days are over and England now looks for make their dreams come true.

England showed us that maybe the national team has finally changed. Reaching the semi finals with such a young team can bring hope that England can do more with this generation. Yet, there is always that the team will crush with the rising expectations and two years from now, in Euro 2020, England will have another disappointment. No matter what will happen, the fans will always have the same refrain in their hearts, "it's coming home". One day, it may really come home.

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World Cup Preview: France v Belgium

Who? France - Belgium
Where? Krestovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg
When? July 10, 20:00 (CET local time)

When thinking about a semi-final between France and Belgium the first thing that might come to mind is the rivalry between them. After all, they have played each other more than 70 times. Their last World Cup meeting was in 1986 in the match for third place. It was the last time Belgium have reached the semi-final of a World Cup. Moreover, besides football, there is some cultural rivalry between both nations. This rivalry is reflected in popular jokes in France about Belgian stupidity, including a whole genre called Belgian jokes. In other fields, people from both nations can still fight over the origin of fries, or about the fact that some national Belgian icons such as Herge and Jacques Brel were adopted and, in a way, “hijacked” by French culture.

All those disagreements are very small at the end of the day. Underneath them lies a truth that might not be very pleasant for some French or Belgians to hear. The truth is that they are very similar in many aspects, and language is not the only one. One field in which the similarities are very vivid is football.

Both teams have gone through similar processes in the last years and their arrival to semi-finals reflects it. These processes can be summed up to three aspects: 1. Long term investment in youth systems and players. 2. Weakness of the local league and export of players to stronger leagues. 3. Inclusion of second-generation immigrants in sports.

As for France, the name of Clairefontaine academy is well known, with former star players such as Anelka and Henry coming from it. In the current French squad several players got their football education there, such as Matuidi, Mbappe and Giroud, all starters in this World Cup. While France is known for years already for youth programs and development of young talents, the Belgian case is a bit more complicated. After suffering from several bad years in the late nineties, the Belgian football federation decided to heavily invest in future football generation. This investment was made through a thoroughly structured plan. The aim was to identify and develop talented players while keeping them in a solid tactical structure staring from early ages. One key element of this plan was to enable young talents to play as much as they can, so they will be able to demonstrate their talents.

This demonstration led to a situation that is common for Belgian and French football. The situation is reflected by the weakness of the local league, which serves as a contrast to the strength of players playing outside their homeland. The best example is seen nowadays in Russia. Only one out of 22 first XI players of Belgium and France in their quarter final matches, Kylian Mbappe, is playing in his local league.

Besides a young generation of world class talents and massive export of this talent outside, Belgian and French football share another important aspect in common. Out of 23 players in each squad, 18 players in France, and 11 players in Belgium belong to different communities of immigrants. In both countries, immigration is a very delicate issue and football reflects it. In France, for example, right wing leader Le Pen criticized Raymond Domenech in 2006 for selecting too many black players. In Belgium, star striker Lukaku admitted that when he was younger he suffered from racism and doubts about his age. Moreover, Lukaku whose father is Congolese, stated that he himself feels that when things are not going so well, suddenly he is no longer referred to as Lukaku the Belgian striker, but Lukaku, the Belgian striker of Congolese descent.

Therefore, it might not be surprising that one of Lukaku’s best friends is one of his rivals this semi-final, Pogba. Pogba, son of immigrants as well, has suffered from racism in several occasions, including in France itself due to his immigrant and Muslim background. But like Lukaku, he represents a new generation of players who are not ashamed of their origins.

Lukaku and Pogba serve as a good reflection of football in Belgium and France. They emerged as young talents in their countries, benefited from high-quality training programs and went as young kids to play outside their country. Furthermore, as second-generation immigrants, they represent the impact football has on society in France and Belgium. As two high profile stars for their national teams, they represent the process each country has made with its football as well as common processes in both countries. But more than everything, they are a symbol for both nations that after a long period of waiting and preparing, their future starts now.

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World Cup Preview: Brazil v Belgium

Who? Brazil - Belgium
Where? Kazan Arena, Kazan
When? July 6, 20:00 (CET local time)

Brazil (Vitor Buratini Mendes)

The history of Brazil and Belgium is completely positive for A Seleção. In four matches, Brazil won four times, and the last one was the most striking and important. In the round of 16 of 2002 World Cup, the last time Brazil won the World Cup, Brazil defeated the Belgian national team 2:0. In this match, the Ronaldo and Rivaldo scored, the two main players of that team. A forward and a midfielder. Will we see a repeat by Neymar and Coutinho?

If the Brazil will keep to improve like in the previous matches, it may happen. In the last match, against Mexico, the Mexican played 25 minutes of pressure. However since then only Brazil played, with scoring two goals in the second half. One of them was after a great play by Willian, that had been criticized for his performances in the previous matches. The other, scored by Firmino, that many believe that he must be in the lineup for the next matches. Changing the team or not, in the next match probably all the players will be available for Brazil except from one player, Danilo, who would not return to play in this tournament. Douglas Costa is expected to return to the bench after recovering from injury.

The expectations among the Brazilians are great. The excitement of the fans is increasing in every match and everyone believes that winning the title is really possible. It is also amazing to see how much support the Brazilians get is in other countries. All this positive energy, coming from all over the world is very important. The Brazilian people are grateful and hope that the team will give them love back.

Belgium (Omri Tancman)

The first and last time Brazil and Belgium met in an official match was in 2002. Belgium lost 2-0 and Brazil continued on to lift the trophy and become world champions. From this squad there are no remains and the current golden generation of Belgian football was built on the ashes of this team after a long term program.

In the last world cup, Belgium met another South American team in quarter finals, Argentina, and lost 1-0 prior to its elimination. Based on these results, some might argue that the Belgians are losers who have no chances against South American teams. However, when considering the current match up with Brazil, Belgium has in a way a secret weapon on their bench. From all personnel in current Belgian national team the only one who has ever one Brazil is Thierry Henry.

Much has been talked recently about the contribution of Henry to the Belgian national squad. Different topics were heavily analyzed, from his relationship with Lukaku, to his mental influence and attacking vision and coaching ability. But besides all of this, sometimes what is needed is just to consult with someone who already knows how to do it.

In this case, there is no doubt that Henry, who scored the winning goal in the 1-0 win of France against Brazil in 2006, is a very good address. Even without magically turning Kevin de Bruyne to Zinadine Zidane, no one doubts that with the know-how Henry possesses, he can give this squad the small edge they missed in previous stages such as this.

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World Cup Preview: Belgium v Japan

Who? Belgium - Japan
Where? Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don
When? July 2, 20:00 (CET local time)

Belgium (Omri Tancman)

The current Belgian generation is considered as one of its finest ever. However, in their last two big tournaments the Belgians haven’t managed to progress as much as they wanted. In Brazil in 2014 and in France in 2016 they didn’t succeed to go beyond the quarter finals. When looking at the first teams Belgium presented and comparing it to their first team in Russia 2018 one of the main changes is the inclusion of Dries Mertens in the starting eleven.

Mertens, Napoli’s sneaky striker made a long way until he became a consensus in the Belgian squad. Unlike some of Belgium’s former wonderkids like Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne, Mertens had to scrape his way to the top slowly but surely. For example, due to his small size and physical attributes, Mertens was released from Anderlecht’s youth team when he was 16. However, Mertens did not quit and battled to play professional football. His character and his desire to prove that he can be worthy for any team led him finally to a couple of extraordinary seasons with Napoli. In fact, it seems that the character of Mertens and the fighting ethos of Napoli are a match meant to be.

These mental attributes are something that the Belgian national team can benefit from. One of the popular opinions regarding the Belgian national team is that although they have an abundance of talent, sometimes they lack character and grit. The inclusion of Mertens in the first team, differently than in the last two big tournaments can help Belgium to achieve the expected glory they wish to obtain with this generation so much. A win against Japan can be a great step on this path.

Japan (Yossi Medina)

The continental honour is on Japan. The last Asian team left in the World Cup doesn't want to finish their journey in Russia. The Blue Samurais want to be the third Asian team to play in the quarterfinals, after North Korea in 1966 and South Korea in 2002. In order to do that, they must give their best against Belgium.

Japan can't forget their previous World Cup match against Belgium back in 2002. At their opening match in front of the home crowd, the Japanese managed to finish the game with 2:2 by goals of Takayuki Suzuki and Junichi Inamoto. In that World Cup Japan reached the round of 16 and lost to Turkey in their last match.

Even though Japan made it through the group stage, everyone talked about their controversial finish. Japan lost its last match against Poland and qualified after using the fair play tiebreaker. They were ranked above Senegal only because they got two yellow cards less. Many have doubted if they are really better than Senegal, but now it's all history, as Japan is preparing for their match.

This game can be a milestone day for two player. The first is Shinji Okazaki that may play his 117th international game, which will place him as the third most capped player of Japan. Another milestone can be reached by Keisuke Honda, as his next cap will be his 98th international match and he will be tied as the eighth most capped player alongside with Shunsuke Nakamura.

With all this tradition, history and faith, Japan is ready to bring history not only to their country, but to Asia.  Akira Nishino knows well that it's might be difficult, but Japan proved that they can play well against stronger teams. Will it be the case also tonight?

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World Cup Preview: England v Belgium

Who? England - Belgium
Where? Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
When? June 28, 20:00 (CET local time)


England is in a complete euphoria. The 6:1 win against Panama made everyone believe that maybe in this World Cup they will have a better chance for winning the title. Now, after they clinched their spot for the next stage, they will try to do more interesting things in the World Cup.

For example, England can complete this stage with three wins, a record they had only in 1982 World Cup. They can even have one of their best scoring World Cup campaigns, as they only scored more in 1966.

Another notable record that maybe would be broken in this World Cup will be Gary Lineker's record for most goals in a single World Cup. While Lineker scored 6 goals in 1986, Harry Kane already netted 5. According to the reports, Kane might leave Russia for a while due to his wife pregnancy. The English FA is aware to the situation and says that Kane is not schedule to leave the team until the end of the tournament.

With their hope and optimism, England is facing one of the most dominant team in 2018 World Cup. If they will make it through, there is a big chance that the football will really come home.


Until now, Belgium presents maybe the most entertaining football in the tournament. With eight goals and two wins, Belgium already clinched their spot in the round of 16. Their last match against England is expected to be interesting, but it's going to be complicated.

The results combination, made England and Belgium to be almost completely tied for the first place. The only tie breaker that works is the fair play points. Currently, Belgium is ranked second as they got more yellow cards. If the game tonight will end with a win, there is no problem and the first place will be clear. The problem will be in case of a draw.

In a case of a draw, the teams will still be tied and once again the fair play tie breaker will be used. As this match will be the last, teams will know in such case if it will be better to finish first or second in order to avoid a harder path to the later stages. Belgium, who currently have one yellow card more than England, will need to work hard to maintain this lead if they want to finish second.

By the way, if England and Belgium will be tied at the end of the night also by fair play points, a drawing of lots will decide the first place. It happened only once in the history of the World Cup, while Ireland and Netherlands were tied for the second place in 1990. Will Belgium be part of a weird moment?

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World Cup Preview: Belgium v Panama

Who? Belgium - Panama
Where? Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
When? June 18, 17:00 (CET local time)


The Belgian golden generation is keeping its journey through the major tournament. After reaching both last World Cup and Euro quarterfinals, Belgium wants to do more in their 13th appearance. Their kickoff match against Panama is expected to be a good stage for their first match.

Belgium has been changed in the recent years, as their former manager Marc Wilmots was replaced by the Spanish Roberto Martinez. Under his guidance, Belgium lost only once in 19 games and the confidence level is high. In the back of the scenes, Belgium have another special addition, the assistant manager, Thierry Henry. If someone in Belgium believes in reaching the later stages, Henry can add some of his experience.

As most of the leading Belgian players play for the biggest clubs in Europe, there is one player that his ability is currently in doubt. It is common to think that Axel Witsel prefered his comfort instead of playing in high levels. After years in Russia, Witsel joined the Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian in the last season.

In such a talented squad, it is almost unclear whether Witsel is worth a place in the Belgium lineup or even in the squad. For Witsel, this World Cup will be almost a last chance to prove his criticizers that he is still good enough as he was few years ago.


In its debut appearance, Panama are already making headlines. According to FIFA data, Román Torres is the heaviest player in the World Cup with a weight of 99 kilograms. Earlier this week, a journalist asked kindly for his comment about this issue. His answer was simple - he stood up and revealed his belly, an act that became viral immediately.

Panama is one of the weakest teams in this tournament. No one really gave them a chance to qualify, but a crazy final matchday in CONCACAF hexagonal ended with the historic ticket to Russia. Now, with Belgium and England in the group, Panama are really minnows in World Cup terms.

Although for most of the readers their players are maybe anonymous, they are bringing massive number of caps and international experience. In the squad you can find 9 players at their 30's, 6 of them made also an impressive number of at least 100 caps.

Panama will bring a decent number of fans that will follow their team in this moment. As a Latin nation, we can believe that they will bring the cheering sound at its best. If you want to understand how enthusiastic they are, recall their last qualifiers match. During this game, one fan has deliberately invaded the pitch in order to prevent a goal against the team.

With these interesting stories, Panama will bring more than football the tournament. No matter if Panama could or couldn't to play well, at least we will have a lot of good reasons to enjoy.

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