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SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia, July 15, 2018 (News Wires) - England’s fourth place in Russia should not be allowed to become a one-off – and the side are pushing for a top- four spot at Euro 2020, FA technical director Dan Ashworth said.

The Three Lions finished their campaign in St Petersburg on Saturday night with a 2-0 defeat to Belgium, having made it to the semi-finals at a World Cup for the first time since 1990.

Ashworth said the FA was delighted with the progress made by Gareth Southgate’s side – England were knocked out at the group stages in Brazil 2014 – but told the Mail on Sunday that England were still falling short at key moments.

He told the paper: “I believe that we are making good progress but we don’t for one minute think that we have solved all the problems because the bottom line is that we haven’t won the World Cup.

“It’s important that we now make sure that this tournament isn’t a one-off, that it isn’t a false dawn.”

Ashworth pointed to the success of England’s development sides – England won the under-17 World Cup in India in 2017 beating Spain 5-2 in the final, while their under-20 counterparts are also world champions – as evidence the future is bright.

Speaking about Euro 2020, where the semi-finals and final will be played at Wembley, Ashworth said: “We want to be at our own party, don’t we?

“We will review this tournament find out what we could have done a bit better, find out what we have done well, keep the things we have done well, improve on things we felt we could have done better and foot flat to the floor with Spain in the UEFA Nations League in six weeks.”

He said the side were “desperate” to bring something home for the country, adding: “We’ll keep pushing to do that.”



ST PETERSBURG, July 14, 2018 (News Wires) - Belgium beat England 2-0 in the World Cup third-place play-off on Saturday to secure their best ever finish at a World Cup and send Gareth Southgate's side home with a second straight loss.

France will face Croatia in Sunday's final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

A fourth-minute goal from Thomas Meunier and an 82nd minute Eden Hazard strike earned Belgium the victory and the third-place, which improves on their previous best performance of a fourth-place finish in 1986.

England were on top for most of the second half but with captain Harry Kane looking tired, Belgium's greater sharpness in the final third proved decisive.

Meunier's goal came after Romelu Lukaku swung the ball out left to Nacer Chadli who burst down the wing and slipped the ball across the face of the goal and the midfielder confidently slotted past Jordan Pickford.

The goal means Belgium have had 10 different goalscorers at this World Cup -- equalling the record set by France in 1982 and Italy in 2006.

While England manager Gareth Southgate made five changes to the side which lost to Croatia, Belgium boss Roberto Martinez made just two switches.

Meunier returned from suspension and Youri Tielemans given a start ahead of Maroune Fellaini in midfield with the Belgians fielding their strong front three of Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard.

De Bruyne should have made it 2-0 in the 12th minute when the ball found him at the back post after a slip-up from John Stones, but his poorly struck shot was easily dealt with by Pickford.

Kane, the tournament's top scorer with six goals, had an opportunity when set up by Raheem Sterling in the 24th minute but was off-balance as he screwed his shot wide.

Southgate brought on Marcus Rashford for Sterling and Jesse Lingard for Danny Rose at the break and the change worked well, with England well on top in the second half.

Toby Alderweireld was forced to clear an Eric Dier effort off his line at full stretch after a neat exchange between the Tottenham midfielder and Rashford ended with a chip over Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois.

Dier and then Harry Maguire both headed wide from promising positions, while at thee other end Meunier went close to a second with a powerful volley that Pickford did well to save.

But the game was wrapped up when De Bruyne burst from midfield and slipped the ball through to Hazard, who glided past Phil Jones and fired into the bottom corner.




ST PETERSBURG, July 14, 2018 (News Wires) - Belgium finished third in the World Cup, their best-ever performance, when they beat England 2-0 with an early Thomas Meunier goal and a breakaway finished by Eden Hazard in Saturday's playoff between the losing semi-finalists.

Meunier finished off a devastating move when he turned in Nacer Chadli's low cross at the far post in the fourth minute after Romelu Lukaku's pass sliced open the English defence.

Belgium, who beat England 1-0 in a group match in the tournament, were more dangerous throughout a lively first half.

But England improved after the break and nearly equalised when Eric Dier got clear and chipped over Thibaut Courtois, only for Toby Alderweireld to make a sliding clearance off the line.

Belgium continued to threaten on the break and finished off the game when Kevin de Bruyne set Hazard clear and he swept his shot past Jordan Pickford.

Gareth Southgate made five changes to his starting XI. Kieran Trippier was a surprise starter after limping off with a groin injury in the semi-final, while Harry Kane was given another chance to secure the golden boot.

Phil Jones, Danny Rose, Eric Dier, Fabian Delph and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were drafted in for Kyle Walker, Ashley Young, Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard.

For Belgium, Martinez employed Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Hazard as the attacking fulcrum. Youri Tielemans came in for Marouane Fellaini and Meunier returned after suspension.

Belgium took the lead with the first penetrative attack of the match. Lukaku’s pass found Nacer Chadli’s run. The winger whipped a cross into the area and when Meunier nipped in front of Rose he only needed to make contact to beat Jordan Pickford.

England were caught at the back again in the ninth minute, Tielemans winning a challenge with Delph and setting off a counter-attack. Belgium players piled in at the back post but England regrouped.

A Tielemans foul on Kane allowed Southgate’s side to try one of their free-kick routines but Trippier was unable to locate Harry Maguire.

De Bruyne, Hazard and Lukaku were tormenting England, but Loftus-Cheek won a corner after driving into the box and Trippier and Maguire combined to give Thibaut Courtois a low, but simple, save.

In the 23rd minute England built patiently from the back through several phases. Dier was the man to finally choose a killer pass, lifting a ball over the top and finding Sterling.

The Manchester City forward offloaded to the advancing Kane, but his first-time shot flew a yard or two wide. For the first time Southgate was seen clapping a considered passage of play from his side.

A long ball for Lukaku was cleared by England, but only as far as the waiting De Bruyne. He soon set another attack in motion, with Chadli providing width and assistance.

Tielemans was given licence to strike from 20 yards but John Stones spotted the danger and smothered the shot with a diving interception.

With half an hour gone England were comfortably second best and looking unlikely to claim a podium finish in Russia.

A second goal for Belgium was coming closer and closer, Stones hurling his body in the way for a second time when Hazard unleashed from the edge of the area.

A corner followed, with England dragged out by a clever routine which ended with Toby Alderweireld hooking over the crossbar from six yards.

The half-time whistle arrived with Martinez’s side in complete control. The gulf in class was evident whenever De Bruyne or Hazard got on the ball, with England’s midfield over-run and their attackers cut off.

The scoreline remained at 1-0 thanks to Stones’ awareness in blocking a late Lukaku effort rather than diving in, but England needed a considerable upturn in performance levels if they were to find a way back in.

Southgate made two changes at half-time, Sterling and Rose making way for Marcus Rashford and Lingard.

That meant a tactical reshuffle, Delph slotting in at left wing-back - where he operated for much of Manchester City’s title-winning Premier League campaign.

The changes appeared to have a positive effect, with England starting much more assuredly in the second period.

Loftus-Cheek just ran out of road after making a lively raid into the box and Rashford was quick to showcase his dribbling skills.

A free-kick on the right saw Trippier curl one into the six-yard box, but Thomas Vermaelen touched it out for a corner.

Lingard also had a beneficial effect, adding pace to England’s midfield endeavours.

He lashed a cross-shot from right to left after pushing up in support of the strikers and though it was never going to trouble Courtois directly, Kane threw himself at it in the vain hope of directing it home.

MOSCOW, July 13, 2018 (News Wires) - England meet Belgium in the unglamorous third place play-off on Saturday, but history suggests it will be an entertaining affair, which is good news for Golden Boot hopefuls Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku.

Forget fears of another forgettable affair and embrace the no-stakes thrills of a World Cup play-off. With nothing to play for, except clichés of pride and ‘doing it for the fans’, the third-place game has carved out some unlikely classics down the years.

While the final is a nervy affair – just six goals have been scored in the last four – the play-off sees reckless abandon as the players enjoy one final blow-out before their summer officially begins.

In that same period, dating back to 2002, 17 goals have been scored in the third meets fourth showdown, including the fastest in World Cup history by Turkey’s Hakan Sukur after just 10.89 seconds.

In fact, you have to travel back to Spain 1982 for the last time the final outscored the third place play-off. Eight times in a row, the final has been upstaged – on goals, anyway. And that's good news for two men in particular.

There’s obviously a small chance Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann could profit from some peak-Lovren defending, but the goal-friendly nature of the play-off means the winner will almost certainly be English or Belgian.

Kane is a dead-rubber specialist, an unwelcome tag which was awarded after he fired seven goals in two end-of-season matches to top the Premier League scoring charts in 2017, while Lukaku is renowned as a flat-track bully. Given both teams will likely rotate, but start their main strikers, both No.9s will expect to score.

It’s easy to discount Kane’s record. Three penalties, a ridiculous deflection and a tap-in make up the bulk of his scoring in Russia, but it’s undeniable that his goals have more value than Lukaku’s.

The Belgian hasn’t struck a decisive goal, only finding the net against Tunisia and Panama after his team-mates had broken the deadlock. Kane may have only delivered one truly ‘world class’ moment in the entire tournament, but it was that sensationally guided header against Tunisia that sparked England’s momentous run to the semi-finals.

Then again, Lukaku’s overall contribution far outweighs Kane. He was outstanding in the defeat of Brazil, while his dummy against Japan will go down as one of the great non-assists. If he was allowed to take Belgium’s sole penalty over Eden Hazard, and scored it, he would be on five goals. Subtract Kane’s impossible-to-recreate back-heel against Panama and we’re all square.

But that’s not how it works. The Golden Boot goes to the player who scores the most goals, regardless of how. Abuse Kane all you want, but he has a brilliant knack for always finding the net. He can’t help it if opposition players want to wrestle him to the ground, affording him the chance to score from 12 yards; nor is it his fault that a serious contender hasn’t emerged in Russia to stop him walking off with another individual award.

MOSCOW, July 13, 2018 (News Wires) - England manager Gareth Southgate admits the World Cup third-place playoff is a game that no team wants to play, but Saturday's match against Belgium offers the chance to finish the tournament on a winning note.

A gut-wrenching 2-1 loss to Croatia after extra-time denied England a shot at a second World Cup triumph, instead setting up a consolation game against familiar foes Belgium.

Roberto Martinez's side, who were beaten 1-0 by France in the last four, topped Group G ahead of England after an Adnan Januzaj goal settled a low-key encounter in Kaliningrad.

That game saw both coaches heavily rotate their teams, and a similar scenario is likely in Saint Petersburg, with several fringe players pushing for a start.

"The honest thing is, it's not a game any team wants to play in," said Southgate, whose side have drawn praise for the way they have briefly united a country bitterly divided over Brexit.

However, he insisted that will not alter England's approach as they look to achieve their best finish since they won the competition in 1966.

"We'll want to give a performance of huge pride, there's no question about that," said Southgate.

"Every time we wear the shirt of our national team we want to play with pride, we want to play well and we want to win."

Reserve goalkeepers Jack Butland and Nick Pope are the only two members of England's 23-man squad yet to feature in Russia, as Southgate stuck with the same line-up throughout the knockout phase.

For Belgium and their "golden generation", many of the key players should return for the 2022 World Cup, even if Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen will probably be gone by then.

Martinez, who signed an extension until after Euro 2020 in May, can guide Belgium to the nation's best result at the World Cup. They finished fourth in 1986.

"We want to finish on a high and these players deserve to finish on a high," said the Spaniard.

"You need to try to see the opportunity of finishing third at the World Cup. That doesn't happen too often, so we need to understand that this is an important game.

"But I would accept it is very difficult when you had the ambition of getting to the final. It's very difficult to prepare for the next game."

European teams have claimed third place at the past nine World Cups. The Netherlands beat Brazil 3-0 in 2014 after the hosts were embarrassed 7-1 by Germany in the semifinals.

England skipper Harry Kane is the tournament's top scorer on six goals, while Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku trails by two in the race for the Golden Boot.

With one more goal Kane would become the highest scorer at the competition since 2002, when Ronaldo struck eight times, including twice in the final, as Brazil clinched a record fifth title.

The Tottenham forward would be just the second England player to scoop the award, after Gary Lineker was the top scorer in 1986.

MOSCOW, July 13, 2018 (News Wires) - England manager Gareth Southgate intends to keep changes to a minimum as his side take on Belgium in the World Cup’s third-place play-off.

It has been suggested Southgate could radically alter his team to give some of his fringe players a run-out as England bow out in Russia in the bronze-medal match in St Petersburg.

But while Southgate will assess the fitness levels of his players, he does not want to deviate too far from what has become a settled line-up.

Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Southgate said: “We have to decide who can go again physically. Everyone wants to play but sometimes it is not a good decision to play someone if their energy is not quite there.

“We have to think who can give us the best performance. It won’t be the same XI but, ideally, we want to make as few changes as possible.”

Southgate admits it has been tough to come to terms with Wednesday’s semi-final heartbreak at the hands of Croatia but he insists motivation will not be a problem this weekend.



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