Phil Jones expects England’s final group game against Belgium to bear all the hallmarks of a Premier League encounter.
Twelve of Belgium’s 23 man squad play for English clubs, while four others have done so previously and manager Roberto Martinez has spent most of his professional career in the country.
That adds up to plenty of friendly rivalries and very few secrets as two teams with lots of shared history go head-to-head in the Group G decider.
Manchester United defender Jones said: “It’s almost like a Premier League match, barring a few players.
“We know what we’re up against, we know their players inside out and know what we’ve got to do. We play against them near enough every week.”
One of the players Jones knows best of all is Old Trafford team-mate Romelu Lukaku, who is one behind Golden Boot rival Harry Kane in the tournament’s scoring charts.
While Kane is desperate to add to his tally of five goals in two games, Lukaku looks likely to be rested after suffering a knock against Tunisia.
That is likely to be just one among several expected changes to the starting teams, but Jones does not believe that represents a dip in quality.
“There is more than just Lukaku to worry about and we’ve got a number of very good players in our team they need to be worried about too,” he added.
Jones is hoping to benefit from rotation, having yet to feature in either of England’s first two matches in Russia.
“Anyone who gets the chance to play will do the best they can to make the manager make a difficult decision, I’m sure he’s made a lot of difficult decisions so far.
“But the lads who’ve played have done well and fully deserved the credit they’ve got. We’re all fighting for each other and pushing each other.”
Rio Ferdinand has highlighted the crucial leadership role Lionel Messi played in dragging under-fire Argentina into the knockout rounds of the World Cup – but he’s not talking about his performance in the 2-1 win over Nigeria.
The former England defender singled out the impact of Messi’s talk to his team-mates in the tunnel prior to emerging for the second half in Saint Petersburg.
And after Messi was snapped giving the half-time team talk, Ferdinand explained why such a gesture was vital for Argentina.
“We saw the pictures before of Messi in the tunnel talking to the team,” Ferdinand said as an analyst for the BBC.
“When the great Lionel Messi is speaking to them team-mates, they have to listen, they have to come together. Without that unity, you can’t achieve anything.”
Messi put La Albiceleste in the lead at the Krestovsky Stadium in the opening 45 minutes, but Victor Moses’ penalty just after the break made it 1-1.
And the South Americans were under par in the second period, but clinched a last 16 berth as Marcos Rojo’s 86th-minute goal claimed a dramatic 2-1 win against the Super Eagles.
As Messi was trying to inspire his team-mates during the interval, Argentina’s under-fire head coach Jorge Sampaoli sat in the dugout.
Sampaoli emerged from the dressing room long before his players, who instead gathered around Messi.
The Argentina coach has been under immense pressure after a dreadful opening to the tournament, but former Argentina international Pablo Zabaleta insisted it was now time for the side to come together as one unit.
“He [Sampaoli] made a few mistakes in the last two games, he knows that,” Zabaleta, the 58-times capped Argentine international, said.
“He took some responsibility for that. He was brave. Hopefully we saw another 90 minutes in the next game of that Argentina. It’s time for unity. In those moments you need that, players, staff – everybody together.”
Lionel Messi insists he and his Argentina colleagues were always confident of winning their crucial World Cup Group D clash with Nigeria, but admitted he did not expect they would suffer so much against the Super Eagles.
The relieved La Albiceleste talisman scored the opener in Saint Petersburg but the South American powerhouses were heading out after Victor Moses’ penalty made it 1-1.
An unlikely winner from Marcos Rojo four minutes from full-time sent his side through to the last 16, where they have set up a mouthwatering clash with France.
“We already knew we were going to win, we were confident that God would help us, that all would turn out well,” Barcelona star Messi, 31, told Argentine media.
“But we did not expect the complication of the draw, of suffering so much. But what’s important is that we went through.
“Without a doubt, we knew that an opportunity had fallen from the sky after the two games we had not been able to win and we knew we could not let this one escape.”
He has seem burdened by expectation at international level, especially at this tournament where he was underwhelming in the opening 1-1 draw with Iceland and anonymous as Argentina were swept away 3-0 by Croatia in the second game.
Asked how he felt personally, Messi replied: “I’m good. I’m very happy. It would have been very painful to have been eliminated in the first round.”