England and Belgium to meet again in another meaningless match at the World Cup

Shaun Botterill/Getty ImagesBoth England and Belgium escaped Group G to reach the World Cup semifinal, but after both teams failed to reach the final, they will meet again in the third place match.
  • Belgium and England will meet in the third-place match of the 2018 World Cup on Saturday.
  • It’s the second time the two teams have met at the tournament and the second time that the outcome of their match will be relatively inconsequential.
  • Unlike the Olympics, where winning third place comes with a bronze medal and some sense of accomplishment, at the World Cup it’s only a brutal reminder of how close you came.

Success at the World Cup comes in a variety of forms.

For some teams, just making the tournament is a historic achievement. Panama didn’t come close to winning a match at this year’s tournament, but fans celebrated like they were lifting the trophy after scoring the first World Cup goal in the country’s history. But, for 31 of the 32 teams that qualify for the World Cup every for years, the tournament ends in disappointment, and that’s especially true for the teams that lose in the semifinal.

While making the semifinal is an accomplishment for any team, losing just before the final and coming so close to glory is devastating. Making matters worse is the fact that while the teams have no way to win the tournament, they still must play one more match that’s essentially meaningless – the third-place match, which Belgium and England will compete in on Saturday.

In a funny turn of events, this will be the second time that Belgium and England face off at the 2018 World Cup, and the second time the outcome of the match will be met with relative indifference.

In the final match of the group stage of the tournament, Belgium and England had both already secured their advancement to the knockout bracket, with only their rankings left to be determined. Due to how the bracket was shaping up, it appeared as though neither team would want to win the match, as whichever team wound up winning the group would be placed into the “side of death” that was forming.

Belgium won that match, and did surprisingly well navigating the “side of death,” defeating Japan and Brazil en route to the semifinal before falling 1-0 to France. England wound up with the easier path, beating Colombia and Sweden before a disappointing showing against Croatia saw the Three Lions run cut short on Wednesday.

Now, Belgium and England will meet again in another match that neither team will likely care much about winning. The most exciting possible development in the game would be for Romelu Lukaku to score a few goals to challenge Harry Kane for the Golden Boot, and even that would be relatively unimportant with both sides knowing that the final was kicking off just hours later.

At the very least, Belgium and England will be able to really go at it this time around. While neither team wanted to win their first match, the freedom from pressure and consequence that the third-place match provides should make for some exciting, if inconsequential football.

It’s tough to call any match at the World Cup “meaningless” – the tournament only happens once every four years, so every game holds a certain value just on how rarely they occur. But it’s safe to say that with the third-place match now set, Belgium and England will have competed in two of the least essential matches of the 2018 World Cup.

Whereas their first meeting held consequences for the team that won, this one holds essentially none at all.

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