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World Cup 2018: England v Belgium guarantees goals – so expect Golden Boot drama

England v Belgium guarantees goals – so expect Golden Boot drama

13/07/2018 at 09:23

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…

If you’re tempted to skip England’s game with Belgium… don’t.

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...

Year Final Third place play-off
1978 Argentina 3-1 Netherlands (AET) Brazil 2-1 Italy
1982 Italy 3-1 West Germany Poland 3-2 France
1986 Argentina 3-2 West Germany France 4-2 Belgium (AET)
1990 West Germany 1-0 Argentina Italy 2-1 England
1994 Brazil 0-0 Italy (3-2 on penalties) Sweden 4-0 Bulgaria
1998 France 3-0 Brazil Croatia 2-1 Netherlands
2002 Brazil 2-0 Germany Turkey 3-2 South Korea
2006 Italy 1-1 France (5-3 on penalties) Germany 3-1 Portugal
2010 Spain 1-0 Netherlands (AET) Germany 3-2 Uruguay
2014 Germany 1-0 Argentina (AET) Netherlands 3-0 Brazil

HARRY KANE v ROMELU LUKAKU

Realistically, the Golden Boot is now a two-way duel: Harry Kane v Romelu Lukaku.

Player Nation Goals
Harry Kane England 6
Romelu Lukaku Belgium 4
Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal 4
Denis Cheryshev Russia 4

*Six players on three goals, with France duo Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann the only players left in the tournament*

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.

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WHO DESERVES IT?

Harry Kane’s record in Russia:

  • Three penalties
  • One match-winning header
  • One tap-in
  • One deflection

Romelu Lukaku’s record in Russia:

  • Three brilliantly taken one-on-ones
  • One header

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.

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