In some ways you could argue its one of the toughest games a player will have to prepare for. Having come so close to sporting immortality, Belgium and England must now recompose themselves to go in search of what will be a high-water mark for at least two generations of fans, or even the greatest ever footballing achievement.
This flowing, expressive, exceptionally talented Belgium side have been touted as potential world-beaters for some time and, with members of their ranks the wrong side of 30, they will arguably be ruing that missed shot at football’s biggest prize more than others. But Saturday presents the chance for greatness, as bronze would see them exceed the heralded side who finished fourth at Mexico 1986.
England’s squad are one of their youngest ever to appear at the finals, so while the sense of a last chance is not there, one of a missed opportunity is. Both starting XIs will be tough to predict, coming at the end of a long seven games for all involved, but third place would be the Three Lions’ biggest achievement since triumphing in 1966. It would also see them equal the recent feat of their women’s team, who earned bronze at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015.
Motivation is often the key factor in a Match for Third Place and Belgium may have the stronger impetus. Thomas Meunier will be back into the team and has already stressed the importance of finishing third for the first time in their history. With plenty of English connections with the side, the Red Devils will be keen to surf on their psychological edge after earning their first win over the Three Lions in 82 years a fortnight ago.
Lifting England’s disappointed heads, less than 72 hours after their World Cup dream slipped away, will be a real test for Gareth Southgate. Yet this is an opportunity for them to fulfil their tournament objectives: restore a lasting pride in the jersey and give fans cause to celebrate. This young team is determined to make a permanent mark on this World Cup. Team adjustments will be kept to a minimum compared to when these sides met in Kaliningrad.