Wednesday 18 September 2019

Permutations: Here’s why England would be better off losing their Group G decider with Belgium

England manager Gareth Southgate spoke to the media in Kaliningrad on Wednesday evening (Adam Davy/PA)
England manager Gareth Southgate spoke to the media in Kaliningrad on Wednesday evening (Adam Davy/PA)

Mícheál Ó Scannáil

England will have an easier route to the World Cup final if they lose their final Group G game this evening against Belgium with it becoming evident that the draw for the knockout stage has been more generous to whoever places second.

Both of the qualifiers from the group will have to play one of Japan, Senegal or Columbia in the round of 16, a minor task compared to what lies ahead if either are to be successful in winning the World Cup. The quarter-final springs up a much greater challenge for whoever finishes top. They will have to play the winners of a round of 16 game between Mexico and current outright favourites for the competition, Brazil.

It doesn’t get much easier from there for the Group G victors. If they are lucky enough to advance to the semi-final, they will be greeted by one of France, Argentina, Portugal or Uruguay.

On the other side of the draw, if they beat the top team in Group H, the runners up between England and Belgium will meet either Sweden or Switzerland in the quarter-final. If they are successful in that clash, they will face Russia, Croatia, Denmark or a Spanish side that qualified in top spot only because of a dubious penalty decision in Portugal’s final group clash.

Gareth Southgate’s exciting squad have found themselves sitting atop their group after two games, but only on fair play points. After their late 2-1 win against Tunisia and their 6-1 thrashing of Panama, England have the same points (6), same goal difference (+6) and the same goals scored (8) as Belgium. The only thing that separates the sides is that Belgium have been shown three yellow cards and England have had one less.

A draw in tonight's clash at 7pm, provided England don’t receive more bookings than Belgium, would be enough to condemn them to the more treacherous side of the draw reserved for top spot and Gareth Southgate appears to have identified this with reports suggesting Eric Dier, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Gary Cahill, and even Danny Rose could start while Kyle Walker, who is already on a booking, and Harry Kane, look likely to be rested.

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