England and Belgium fans enjoy relaxed build-up to crunch World Cup match
Both teams have already qualified for the knockout stages and face the temptation to finish second and earn a potentially easier route to the final.
Football fever has gripped Kaliningrad as England and Belgium fans descended hours before the nations’ key World Cup clash.
Supporters from both countries mixed together cordially in bars in the centre of the Russian city, which basked in sunshine and temperatures of 27C.
The relaxed atmosphere was probably a symptom of the lack of pressure on Thursday night’s game, with both teams already qualified for the knockout stages and facing the temptation to finish second and earn a potentially easier route to the final.
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez told reporters winning was not a priority for his team and is expected to rest players, which has only fuelled England fans’ confidence.
And England’s players looked relaxed as they returned to their team hotel from a morning training session.
Sharon Shaw, 46, a letting agent from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, predicted a 3-1 win for Gareth Southgate’s men and believed they could win the tournament.
She said: “I think we can win it – I’ve never seen us play so well.
“And the confidence they showed the other night was just phenomenal.”
Her husband, and fellow Nottingham Forest fan, Paul Shaw said he believed Germany’s exit from the tournament gave England a better chance.
The 52-year-old builder said: “It’s been open hasn’t it, the tournament – you can’t say who’s going to win it because nobody’s shone yet … until we beat Belgium.
“There’s no pressure on us, no pressure at all on the young players, just got to go out and enjoy it and get the result.
“Back home the atmosphere has been awesome.”
He plumped for a 2-1 England victory.
Alex Crawford travelled to Kaliningrad with two friends via Gdansk in Poland.
He too wanted to see an England win, predicting 2-1.
The 30-year-old, from Brighton, East Sussex, said: “I think we are playing so well, people like Harry Kane are on form.
“I’d rather see us put a strong team out, keep momentum going into the last 16.
“Brazil don’t look that good either. We’ve got to back ourselves.”
Asked if England fans were getting carried away, he added: “We always do – we scraped past Tunisia, we beat a very poor Panama side but we always get excited at big tournaments.
“And why not? We’re playing well.
“Greece won the Euros a few years ago, so if that can happen then anything’s possible.”
His friend Matt Howick, 29, from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, also believed England captain Kane should be allowed to carry on his scoring run.
He said: “Personally I’d like to field the strongest 11, keep the momentum going and give Harry Kane the chance to notch.
“He’s obviously on for the golden boot.
“With Kane being top goalscorer I think everyone is getting carried away.”
On the opposite side, many Belgians were relaxed about the result but stressed this could be the Red Devils’ last opportunity for some time.
Claudio Swijsen, 38, from Genk in Belgium, said: “I’m actually thinking we are going to win just because we want to lose.
“If you put Kane on, he’s going to score so you’re going to win and you’re going to have a lot harder track to get to the final.
“It does take the pressure off.
“We just want to see a good match.
“I think we’ve got a good chance, just like England have – they’re the two best teams in the whole competition.
“I hope we are going to get to the final – we have to. It’s about time.”
His friend Jonathan Vermeeren, 37, from Hassell in Belgium, added: “It does feel weird because we paid a lot of money to come here and to come here and watch your team lose.
“If we lose today I think we can go all the way.
“If we miss it this year, it’s never going to happen again – this is the golden generation.”