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British, Belgian leaders take part in World Cup diplomacy

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, left, presents a Belgian National Team jersey to British Prime Minister Theresa May during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, on Thursday, June 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

BRUSSELS -- The World Cup group stage clash between England and Belgium in Russia on June 28 coincided with a summit meeting of the European Union that was held here on the same day, prompting British and Belgian leaders to inevitably engage in World Cup diplomacy.

Prior to the match, British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Belgian counterpart Charles Michel exchanged their respective national teams' jerseys. As both England and Belgium had advanced to the round of 16, which team would finish top of Group G was at stake in the game.

On the political front, the British and Belgian leaders have faced off in negotiations over Britain's exit from the EU, with the deadline for the talks looming without any progress during the summit.

In the jersey swap, Belgian Prime Minister Michel handed May a uniform bearing the number 10 -- that of Belgian ace Eden Hazard. The choice of "Hazard" raised speculations among European journalists covering the summit talks that Michel was sending an implicit message to his British counterpart that he was concerned of a possible breakdown of Brexit talks.

(Japanese original by Kosuke Hatta, Brussels Bureau)

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