BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Pride battered England go to the Saint Petersburg Arena to play for pride in Saturday’s encounter with Belgium, having missed the main target, the FIFA World Cup which will be contested for on Sunday by former champions, France and new contestant, Croatia.
But for England despite missing the World Cup, a third place position will be an improvement on that of Italia ’90 where the Three Lions lost to hosts, Italy in the classification duel.
Should England win, it will be their best performance in 52 years since winning their only title on home soil.
They face Belgium for the 23rd time and will be attempting a 16th victory. Belgium have beaten England only twice in history while both drew five times.
Their most recent engagement was in the group stage of this year’s global showpiece, which ended 1-0 in favour of Belgium following an Adnan Januzaj goal.
The pair’s other previous engagements in the FIFA World Cup both went into extra time. In 1954 they fought out a 4-4 stalemate in Basel that remains the highest-scoring draw in World Cup history, together with Colombia-USSR in 1962.
The next skirmish, in the Round of 16 in 1990, was only decided by a 119th-minute David Platt goal that clinched a 1-0 victory for the Three Lions.
This is the second Play-Off for Third Place to involve Belgium, who lost 4-2 after extra time to France in 1986, in what remains the only third-place decider to have gone beyond regular time.
England are also playing their second Play-Off for Third Place, after losing the 1990 consolation match 2-1 to Italy.
This is the tenth all-European Third Place Play-Off, after those in 1934, 1958 and 1966, followed by every edition from 1982 to 1998 and the most recent one in 2006.
Belgium and England are contesting the World Cup’s 19th Third Place Play-Off, a match that was not played in the 1930 and 1950 editions.
A total of 71 goals have been scored in this fixture, averaging 3.9 per game. The highest-scoring play-off was France-Germany FR in 1958, which ended 6-3.
FACTS ON THE BELGIUM – ENGLAND THIRD PLACE MATCH
· The most frequent results are 3-2 and 2-1, which have each occurred four times, while the score line of 1-0 has been posted three times.
· The highest scorer in a Third Place Play-Off is France’s Just Fontaine, who bagged four goals against Germany FR in 1958.
· The earliest goal in World Cup history was scored in a third-place decider in 2002, when Turkey’s Hakan Sukur found the net against Korea Republic after just 11 seconds.
· Gareth Southgate played against Belgium in a friendly held in Sunderland in 1999, which England won 2-1.