There will be a lot of Tottenham Hotspur players in this summer’s World Cup in Russia, but the real interest will be in Group G, where England drew UEFA rivals Belgium, along with Tunisia and Panama. That’s made the Tottenham training ground which features a large number of England and Belgium internationals, a hotspot for friendly banter.
England could have as many as six Spurs players in their final World Cup squad: Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Harry Winks, Danny Rose, and Kieran Trippier. Belgium’s back line will be anchored by Spurs central defenders Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, and Mousa Dembele is also likely to make the flight to Russia.
But while England’s Tottenham contingent outnumbers their Belgian counterparts, in an interview with ESPN’s Spurs journalist Dan Kilpatrick, Vertonghen thinks that the Red Devils will have the advantage over the high-octane offensive prowess of Kane and Alli when the two sides meet in Russia this summer.
"Because we know how they play. Of course, it's the same for them but I think, from experience, the advantage is with the defenders. Of course, if Harry scores three times in July, I'll kick myself!
"As far as predicting opponents, it's hard. Especially with Harry and Dele. They control so many aspects of the modern game. Harry can do everything. He scores from crosses, he creates his own chances, he can get in behind. He knows my strengths and weakness. And it's the same for Toby. We'll see! I face Harry in training so I know how good he is."
Vertonghen is probably the best player to speak on behalf of Belgium here. He recently became the most-capped player in Belgium history, and as he says he has the advantage of facing off against Kane and Alli every day in Tottenham’s training sessions.
But while he will compete hard against his Spurs teammates this summer, Vertonghen is friends with all of them as well — he watched the draw with Dier and appeared to react negatively when the two countries were drawn together. And he implied the banter has already started, although it’s muted.
"[Dier and I] live close together in London. It was a Friday afternoon and I invited him over. We never spoke about being in the same group. That would've been very strange. Actually I was very excited. I told the guys I would prefer not to play in the group stage against England. We know each other so well.
"Before we were paired together, we were talking [about the World Cup]. We are always giving the guys a bit of stick, saying, 'We're better' or 'We've got this guy and that guy.'
"So Eric and Dele came back to me saying, 'Yeah but we've got [Harry Kane]!' [Now] everyone is very careful. Whoever tries the banter will get it back in preseason if they lose. No one has a big mouth [anymore] because everyone is scared of getting stick in preseason!"
Both England and Belgium have high hopes for the World Cup this summer — they are considered the two favorites in Group G and both have goals to progress deep into the tournament. England will be relying on its core of young Tottenham stars to push them forward, while is a good chance for Belgium’s so-called “Golden Generation” to do better their trip to the quarterfinals in 2014.
England and Belgium will face off on June 28, 2018 in Kalingrad.