Belfast Telegraph

5 things to look out for at the World Cup on Thursday

The action concludes in Groups G and H and there is plenty still to be decided.

The group stage of the 2018 World Cup will be wrapped up on Thursday as the final round of fixtures is played and the last-16 line-up completed.

Here, Press Association Sport highlights some things to look out for on the day the action concludes in Groups G and H.

Major changes afoot?

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Gareth Southgate’s England face Belgium in Kaliningrad (Owen Humphreys/PA)

England and Belgium meet in Group G with both already through to the next round and who finishes first and second to be determined. They have six points each, and are equal on goal difference and goals scored. There has been plenty of talk in the build-up about the potential for changes to the sides, with secured qualification offering the temptation to rest players and avoid risking those on a booking. Certainly, it will be interesting to see exactly what Gareth Southgate and Roberto Martinez decide to do in terms of adjustments.

Kane’s hot streak to continue?

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Harry Kane’s hat-trick against Panama took him to five goals for the tournament (Adam Davy/PA)

Of particular interest within that scenario will be the involvement of England’s Harry Kane, and whether his excellent start to the tournament continues. The Three Lions captain surged to the top of the Golden Boot standings as his hat-trick against Panama on Sunday took his tally to five goals. Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku is only one goal behind him, but he looks set to miss the game in Kaliningrad due to an ankle problem.

Big sign-off for Panama?

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Felipe Baloy registered Panama’s first goal at a World Cup finals with his strike against England (Tim Goode/PA)

While Panama will head into the other Group G game, against Tunisia, already eliminated, they will be eager to bow out of what is their debut World Cup finals in style. They may have been thrashed 6-1 by England last time out, but Felipe Baloy’s 78th-minute effort, Los Canaleros’ first goal at this level, was celebrated by the players, staff and fans with considerable vigour, and it will no doubt be quite the scene if they can secure a maiden victory on Thursday evening.

The battle in Group H

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Colombia’s James Rodriguez impressed against Poland (Adam Holt/EMPICS)

Earlier in the day, Group H – from which England and Belgium’s last-16 opponents will come – closes with Japan playing Poland and Senegal facing Colombia, and three teams are vying for two spots. While the Poles are out, Japan and Senegal are first and second respectively with four points each, and Colombia are a point worse off in third. Colombian fans will be hoping James Rodriguez, the Golden Boot winner in 2014 who is yet to score at this tournament, shines again having impressed in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Poland.

Time for reflection

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Tuesday’s Denmark v France clash was the first goalless game of these finals (Tim Goode/EMPICS)

The group stage reaching an end will be a natural point at which to make an assessment of how the tournament is shaping up – and Russia 2018 has produced plenty of goals and drama so far. It was not until the 13th day of action that the tournament had its first 0-0 draw as Denmark and France produced a stalemate, there have been a number of game-changing late goals and eye-catching results, and the video assistant referee system has proven a frequent talking point.

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