England v Belgium preview: Pride of Three Lions at stake says Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate admits the third-place play-off is not a game that any team wants to play in, leaving the England manager facing a challenge to prepare his players in the wake of their World Cup heartache.
Belgium lie in wait on Saturday afternoon in St Petersburg after Croatia inflicted a crushing defeat. Football will not come home on Sunday, but a physically and emotionally drained England squad will.
But there is still one more match to go for the Three Lions. Today’s match is sure to feel like an unnecessary exertion to some, but it offers the chance to secure England’s second-best World Cup finish as Sir Bobby Robson’s semi-finalists lost their third-place play-off in 1990.
“The honest thing is it’s not a game any team wants to play in,” Southgate said. “We have two days to prepare. We will want to give a performance of huge pride.
“It’s always there every time we wear the shirt of our national team, we want to play with pride, we want to play well and win.
“Of course it is going to be a really difficult task to get everybody mentally back to where we want them for a game like that.
“But that will be the challenge. We will do that and we’ll make sure we are ready as a group to go again because the group have huge pride in their performances, in the way that they work.
“And we have made such strides with our supporters and our public that we want to continue to do that.”
Southgate and his players are sure to be greeted as heroes when they return, but underlying frustration will linger after missing their shot at glory.
He added: “I think we’ve played, we’ve played exciting, attacking football.
“We’ve created good chances in pretty much every game we’ve played.”