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World Cup 2018: 3 key battles that could decide the outcome of England vs Belgium

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467   //    28 Jun 2018, 21:46 IST

England v Belgium - Group G: FIFA World Cup 2018 - matchday -1
A keenly anticipated showdown finally arrives

When the draw for Russia 2018 was announced, two mouth-watering battles stood out from the group stage fixtures: Spain vs Portugal and England vs Belgium. The former lived up to the expectations and delivered a thrilling high-scoring draw with late drama. The latter is the last game of the group stages, and with both teams already having qualified for the next round, one could be forgiven for branding it a 'dead rubber'.

In reality, there is much more at stake. A few upsets in other groups has resulted in many of the pre-tournament favourites ending up in the same half of the knockout bracket. Given the seemingly easier draw in the other half perhaps there may be an incentive to not win this game, but it may not be worth compromising winning momentum.

Here are three key battles that could be crucial to the result of today's game and play a big role in the journey to the Luzhniki Stadium:

#1 Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen vs England's set-piece routines

Belgium v Colombia - International Friendly
Alderweireld and Vertonghen will have to be wary of England's set-piece threat

This is a pair of defenders who have played together for most of the last decade. From Ajax to Tottenham (notwithstanding the Belgian national team), they have been alongside each other at the same club for seven of the last 10 seasons.

Given the amount of time they have had to adapt and adjust to each other's playing style, it comes as no surprise that they have formed a formidable defensive duo for club and country alike.

They will face their toughest challenge of the tournament so far when they take on England and their renewed set-piece threat.

Of the eight goals that England have notched so far in Russia, six have come from set-pieces, with Kieran Trippier discovering the ability to deliver crosses that are being dubbed "Beckhamesque".

It's not just the quantity that has been impressive but the quality as well. Both the goals scored by John Stones against Panama came from meticulously crafted set-piece routines, and England is quickly establishing themselves as the dead-ball specialists of this World Cup.

The responsibility of dealing with this threat will largely rest on the shoulders of Alderweireld and Vertonghen.

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