Wednesday 27 June 2018, 09:00

Stones relishing City reunion

  • Stones chats with FIFA about facing club-mates Kompany and De Bruyne

  • He also discusses his ‘very special moment’ against Panama and hails Walker

  • Follow our Live Blog building up to #ENGBEL with our team correspondents

By Laure James with England

England and Belgium may have qualified for the Round of 16, but there’ll be top spot in Group G at stake when they meet in Kaliningrad – and bragging rights. That latter prize is especially applicable to Three Lions' John Stones, Kyle Walker, Fabian Delph and Raheem Sterling, and Diables Rouges' Vincent Kompany and Kevin de Bruyne, with the sextet sharing a dressing room at Manchester City.

Stones’ two headers helped England thrash Panama 6-1, and gave him as many FIFA World Cup™ goals as Tom Finney, Bryan Robson and Alan Shearer. Now the 24-year-old centre-back, who is expected to start in what Gareth Southgate has suggested will be a changed XI, wants to test himself defensively against one of the sport’s finest attacking sides.

"It will be a very interesting game,” Stones told FIFA TV. “Belgium are a top international team with a lot of quality players, and it will be interesting for me with a few familiar faces.

“But two top sides going against each other is what you want, it’s what I want as a player, because being up against top players brings the best out of you – you want to be tested against them."

Stones and Kompany, who missed Belgium’s first two games due to a groin strain but is in line to return against England, are not only club-mates but also partners at the heart of Pep Guardiola’s backline.

“I love Vinny, he’s a top guy as well as a top player, and it will be great to see him and hopefully he’s fit and ready,” said the 28-times-capped international. “It will be nice to have a chat, but probably [about] non-related football things!

“It will be a strange rivalry I suppose, because we are used to playing on the same team, as with Kevin, but when we cross the line it’s that healthy respect. We all want to win the game, and afterwards we’ll shake hands and it’ll be how it always is.”

Another City defender Stones holds a close relationship with is Walker. “I love [playing alongside him],” said Stones. “I’ve said many times that Kyle is world class in my eyes.

“I am probably biased in some people’s opinions, but even though I’ve only played with him for a season so far, from what he brings, we’ve developed quite a strong bond both on and off the pitch. He is a top guy and a top player, and he’s helped me a lot within the games at City, and coming into the England side he’s helped me massively.”

If playing in the World Cup was already a dream for Stones, scoring in it was something else. He was thrilled his family were there in Nizhny to share the moment with him.

"I would never have expected to have played in a World Cup when I was a kid, so to have scored the first was a very special moment for me and my family as well,” he said. “They came out so for them to have seen it was really special."

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