MOSCOW (AP) — Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku have starred in this year’s World Cup, and neither may see much playing time when England and Belgium play Thursday.
Both teams have already advanced to the round of 16, and the match in Kaliningrad will only determine the Group G finishing order. The low stakes have created speculation as to how England and Belgium will use their players, and if finishing first or second in the group would be more advantageous.
The winners and runners-up will end up on different sides of the draw following the match.
Kane is the leading scorer at the World Cup with five goals, including a hat trick against Panama. Kane became the third Englishman after Geoff Hurst and Gary Lineker to score a hat trick in a World Cup match.
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“He’s sitting really proudly at the top. He’s gone ahead of some major, major names in English football history in terms of World Cup goals,” England coach Gareth Southgate said. “That should make him incredibly proud, but he also knows the team is the most important thing and we have to make decisions that are right for the team.”
Lukaku has scored four goals from four shots on target for Belgium. But he did not train with the team earlier this week and will likely be rested. Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens are all nursing injuries after Belgium’s 5-2 victory over Tunisia.
England and Belgium have identical records and goal tallies heading into their group decider, so a draw in Kaliningrad would mean tiebreaker rules would determine the group winner.
Southgate insisted his team will not try to lose to get an easier match in the knockout round.
“For our country, that would be a very difficult mindset to have,” Southgate said. “We want to win every game of football we go into. I don’t know how we would go into a game not wanting to win and not wanting to play well.”
The game is at 8 p.m. (2 p.m. EDT, 1800 GMT)
Here’s a look at Thursday’s other matches:
JAPAN VS. POLAND
5 p.m. (10 a.m. EDT, 1400 GMT).
Poland has already been eliminated from advancing but Japan can move on to the round of 16 with a draw, and even a loss with help from other teams.
Moving on in the tournament would be a surprise for Japan coach Akira Nishino, who didn’t even have the job three months ago. The team also wasn’t sure if Keisuke Honda would be able to play in Russia.
The Japan Football Association fired coach Vahid Halilhodzic in April because of underwhelming play and supposed friction with senior players. Nishino came in and organized the squad and ensured Honda, who had a poor relationship with his former coach, would be part of the tournament.
It was Honda’s equalizer against Senegal that put Japan in position to move out of Group H.
Japan became the first team from an Asian country to defeat a team from South America with a 2-1 victory over Colombia in its second game.
The Group H match is at the Volgograd Arena.
SENEGAL VS. COLOMBIA
6 p.m. (10 a.m. EDT, 1400 GMT)
Both Colombia and Senegal are trying to advance out of Group H in the match in Samara. Colombia can advance if it beats Senegal, and both team cans advance with a draw if Japan loses its match to Poland.
Senegal is making only its second World Cup appearance, but it shocked the field in 2002 by beating defending champion France in the tournament opener. Senegal advanced to the quarterfinals that year.
Colombia made the quarterfinals four years ago in Brazil but lost 2-1 to the hosts. It was the furthest Colombia had ever advanced at the World Cup.
Senegal has gained attention in this year’s World Cup for its warmup routine, which resembles a choreographed dance and includes chanting before the players huddle together in laughter. A short video of the routine has drawn more than a million views on Twitter.
PANAMA VS. TUNISIA
9 p.m. (2 p.m. EDT, 1800 GMT).
Tunisia and Panama have already been eliminated so each team will be trying to leave the World Cup with a respectful performance.
Tunisia is winless in its last 13 World Cup matches, with four draws and nine losses. It’s only World Cup victory was in 1978 against Mexico.
“We played two matches against better teams than us, as we were in a difficult group,” Tunisia defender Hamdi Nagguez said. “Now, we should focus on the last match and win against Panama and stop this run of 40 years without winning a World Cup match.”
Panama is in the World Cup for the first time but wasn’t competitive in Group G and lost 6-1 to England in its second match. Even so, coach Hernan Dario Gomez has been thrilled with the tournament experience.
“I’ve had to play against two spectacular opponents. But that’s absolutely fantastic because that’s how you learn and draw conclusions and that’s how you can tell where your team is,” Gomez said. “There are tremendous teams here at the World Cup, all with tremendous physical fitness, with lots of tactics and good technique, good pressing and organization, speed on the pitch. I’ve really enjoyed watching the games at this World Cup and been very, very happy to be here.”
More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup