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Southgate pledges to keep England changes to a minimum for third-place match

Three Lions face Belgium needing a win to ensure their best-ever World Cup performance overseas.

England manager Gareth Southgate intends to keep changes to a minimum as his side take on Belgium in the World Cup’s third-place play-off.

It has been suggested Southgate could radically alter his team to give some of his fringe players a run-out as England bow out in Russia in the bronze-medal match in St Petersburg.

But while Southgate will assess the fitness levels of his players, he does not want to deviate too far from what has become a settled line-up.

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Southgate says he hopes to keep changes to a minimum (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Southgate said: “We have to decide who can go again physically. Everyone wants to play but sometimes it is not a good decision to play someone if their energy is not quite there.

“We have to think who can give us the best performance. It won’t be the same XI but, ideally, we want to make as few changes as possible.”

Southgate admits it has been tough to come to terms with Wednesday’s semi-final heartbreak at the hands of Croatia but he insists motivation will not be a problem this weekend.

He said: “Emotionally it has been a difficult few days but the players are incredible. They are a pleasure to work with. They have an energy and desire.

“We want to finish the tournament well. We have set a standard of how we work and how we play and we want to aspire to that level every time we go out.

“We have high motivation to perform. We have a chance to win a medal at a World Cup, which only one other English team has ever done.

“There is a lot of motivation for us and Belgium have already beaten us, so we would like to address that as well.”

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Southgate feels the England team have reconnected with fans (Adam Davy/PA)

England’s hopes of winning a first World Cup since 1966 may be over but Southgate is pleased with the progress that has been made. He feels the team has not only improved on the field but perceptions of the national side at home have also been changed.

He said: “If we want to play for England we have to deal with expectation. We have raised expectation and I don’t have a problem with that because we have also raised belief in the players.

“And they now see playing for England as enjoyment, fun and not feeling under siege. There is an energy and connection back.”

England captain Harry Kane did not feature in England’s loss to Belgium in the group stages but he will go into the game looking to add to the tournament-leading six goals he has already scored.

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Harry Kane is on course for the Golden Boot (Adam Davy/PA)

Southgate said: “We have a captain whose first thought all tournament has been how can he help the team to progress.

“He was was totally on board with us not playing him in the first game against Belgium. It would be more powerful for him to win the Golden Boot having made that sacrifice.”

England will make a low-key return home on Sunday, with no team parade planned.

Southgate said: “It was not my decision but I agree with the decision. If we make the final maybe it is different. If we have a parade that would have been in one part of the country and we represent the whole country.”

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