Gary Cahill will go face to face with an old adversary when England take on Belgium, but a chance meeting in Dubai means there will be no bitterness when he sees Dries Mertens.
Neither man is certain to start the game in Kaliningrad, with Cahill hoping for his first appearance at the World Cup and Mertens nursing an ankle knock, but they will surely cross paths during the Group G decider.
The last time they shared a pitch was in a Wembley friendly on the eve of Euro 2012, when Mertens petulantly pushed the defender into goalkeeper Joe Hart.
The Chelsea man left the field with a broken jaw and was ruled out of the tournament, a huge blow for a player at the peak of his powers. The pain – physical and emotional – has long since passed and the issue was settled for good when the Napoli forward spotted Cahill on holiday in March.
“To be honest it’s a nice story. I was in a restaurant and he took time out to come over and apologise for that situation, which for me was dead and buried,” he said.
“I actually respected him a hell of a lot for doing that. That’s not something he had to do, he didn’t know me, I didn’t even know he was in there to be honest. But he came over and apologised for that years down the line.
“I like to see the good in people. I held no grudges against him, I was just really disappointed with my situation.”
Cahill was a freshly-crowned Champions League winner and a likely starter six years ago but now holds a different status in Gareth Southgate’s squad. With 60 caps and eight years of international service to his name he is comfortably the most experienced player and, at 32, the second oldest behind Ashley Young.
In that sense, the centre-half represents a counter-point to the youthful, exuberant squad Southgate has put together since taking the reins. When he talks about the England set-up, he does so with authority and his refusal to entertain the notion of engineering a second-placed finish against Belgium carries weight.
The group winner looks sure to end up with a tougher route in the knockout stage, but Cahill has been around long enough not to look beyond the last 16.
Referring to England’s shock defeat to Iceland at the same stage at Euro 2016, Cahill said: “We were looking at playing France in their stadium (in the quarter-finals) and it was going to be a fantastic occasion, and then it never got to that. You can look too far down the line.
“I don’t know if it had any effect on our minds or on the game, but certainly people from the outside were looking to that game. If we were to beat Belgium, I don’t think any team would want to face us.”
Having sat out against Tunisia and Panama, Cahill will be hoping for a chance to showcase himself in England’s back three, possibly in place of Harry Maguire.
Several alterations are expected in both team-sheets, but that does not necessarily mean a dilution in quality.
“Both teams are going to make changes, that’s well documented,” said Cahill.
“It doesn’t matter. We are going to make changes and they are going to be top players who come in. It’s a rare occasion when the pressure has eased off it a bit, but the size of the game still makes it our biggest test yet.”