FIFA World Cup 2018: England, Belgium lock horns in 'strange clash'; three-way battle for last-16 in Group H on Day 15

The curse of the defending champions reared its head again on Day 14 at the World Cup when title-holders Germany crashed out of the tournament. On Thursday, the final round of group stage matches will be played but it's only teams in Group H who are still contending for knockout berths.

England's players attend an official training in Zelenogorsk near Saint Petersburg. AP

England's players attend an official training in Zelenogorsk near Saint Petersburg. AP

In Group G, England and Belgium are already through and their clash will only decide who finishes on top. Tunisia and Panama are out of contention and will be playing for pride and their first points at this year's World Cup.

Here’s a look at what you can expect on Thursday at the World Cup in Russia:

Group H: Senegal vs Colombia, Japan vs Poland (7.30 pm)

Both Colombia and Senegal are trying to advance out of Group H in the match in Samara. Currently, Japan and and Senegal have four points each while Colombia are third with three points in the group. Poland are yet to earn a single point in Russia so far.

Colombia can advance if they beat Senegal, and both teams can advance with a draw if Japan lose their match to Poland.

Senegal are making only their second World Cup appearance, but they caused a shock upset in 2002 by beating defending champions France in the tournament opener. Senegal advanced to the quarter-finals that year.

Colombia made the quarter-finals 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 have gained attention in this year's World Cup for its warm-up 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.

Poland have already been eliminated 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 (JFA) fired coach Vahid Halilhodzic in April because of underwhelming play and supposed friction with senior players. Nishino came in and organised 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.

Group G: England vs Belgium, Panama vs Tunisia (11.30 pm)

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.

Topping Group G means playing whoever will have finished second in Group H earlier on Thursday — Colombia, Senegal or Japan.

But the path to the quarter-final could see a match against Brazil or Mexico for the winner.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez and his English counterpart Gareth Southgate will likely rest some of their regular starters and give match time to back-up squad players.

England and Belgium have identical records and goal tallies heading into their group decider, so a draw in Kaliningrad would mean tie-breaker rules would determine the group winner.

Tunisia and Panama have already been eliminated so each team will be trying to leave the World Cup with a respectful performance.

Tunisia are winless in their last 13 World Cup matches, with four draws and nine losses. Their only World Cup victory was in 1978 against Mexico.

Panama are in the World Cup for the first time but haven't competitive in Group G and lost 6-1 to England in the second match.

With inputs from AP

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Updated Date: Jun 28, 2018 09:50 AM

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