Roberto Martinez has been hinting that he won’t be fielding his strongest XI this evening, while Gareth Southgate is keeping his cards closer to his chest. It makes sense not to risk anyone with a small injury or a yellow card away from missing the knock out stages. Yet the manager’s motives might be more transparent then that. The former Everton boss knows he’s not everyone’s cup of tea back in Brussels. The perception of him seems to be of a man who has great footballing values. He will insist on an attacking style which will see him win the matches he should win but lacks the tactical genius to take them to the next step.
In many ways Belgium and England are very alike. Both are known for underachieving with their ‘golden generations’. Like England’s team from 2002-2010 could never get that marquee win at a major tournament, until Hazard and Co can do that, you will always question if mentally they can take progress to a major final. So the final fixture of the group is an ideal opportunity. The Spaniard can prove a point to his adopted nation by proving he can win a ‘big game’. But to be honest, Belgium has not beaten anyone of note and with both sides having already qualified I doubt that they will risk any top players. This game has got a draw written all over it and at 21/10 I am determined to use my bonus from William Hill Football to back the draw and go further and have a tenner on 0-0 Final Score. May as well save your big guns for bigger tests ahead, while we make some money!
The same applies for the 3 Lions. As much praise we have received In the last two weeks, we have only won against opposition we should be winning against. If we failed to get another result in Russia, it would be another campaign where we coped with the minnows before being humbled by the first half-decent side we encounter. In a sense though, that’s currently where we stand in the game, that’s how far we have fallen.
Belgium are different. They have title winners, individuals with big game experience, talent who on their day can claim to be some of the best in the universe. They have so many World class names at the same time that it’s unprecedented. This has never happened and probably never will again for a country where football is not their top sport. That’s why there’s a sense of now or never. If they don’t become champions now they never will. Which is why I believe Martinez is protecting himself by resting his key men. Instead of being brave and proving his doubters wrong the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.
If his strongest side lost to England’s it would confirm what his critics have been saying, affecting confidence going into the last 16. If England instead only beat a reserve team then he can shrug his shoulders and say, ‘Oh well’.
What do you think Gooners. Should England and Belgium rest players this week or keep their winning runs going?