England vs. Belgium, 10 a.m. ET Saturday, Fox Sports 1

  • England +222
  • Belgium +114
  • Draw +280

Bet to Watch:

Under 3 Goals -106

Let me start by saying that the third-place playoff is an absolute abomination. Imagine how it must feel to suffer the most excruciating loss of your career, pick yourself up a few days later and play for a participation trophy. Nobody remembers who finishes second and even fewer people remember who finishes third.

But, we here at The Action Network made a vow. We promised we’d cover each and every World Cup match — from Spain-Portugal to Saudi Arabia-Egypt. We didn’t want to cut any corner.

Just a couple days ago it seemed as if “It’s Coming Home” was written in the stars. England had fallen in love with its national team again, and nobody could stop them. Then Croatia did — and they did it in stomp-on-their-heart fashion. The Vatreni upset the Three Lions in extra time, sending Gareth Southgate’s team of destiny to the loser’s bracket.

Belgium’s 1-0 loss to France was a lot more on-script. The Red Devils and les Bleus played a relatively even match, but in the end, France’s overall quality won the day. There was no shame in losing that match, which honestly felt like a final.

With the domestic season just a few weeks (no, really) away, a lot of star players will sit this one out. There’s no sense in seeing Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling or Eden Hazard get injured in a blue-ribbon match. What the match does provide is an opportunity for players further down the roster to play in a World Cup match. There is a lot of irony to this. As both of these teams met in the last game of the group stage in a match that saw each manager rest his star players. Belgium ended up winning that match, 1-0, and thus were sentenced to the “hard part of the draw.”

Belgium has scored oodles of goals this tournament, but this won’t be that Belgium. Roberto Martinez will likely play his B-squad and that means the vaunted front three of Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku will give way to the reserves. Gareth Southgate will likely make similar changes to his England squad, and that should temper expectations.

In fact, I think this could end up being a pretty dreary occasion, with neither team showing much interest. I expect a ‘run through the motions’ affair that ends up with a low total.

Credit:

Tim Groothuis, USA Today Sports

Follow Michael J. Leboff on Twitter
@TheBigLeebowski