Southgate defends selection decisions after defeat sets up Colombia clash
Gareth Southgate has labelled England's last-16 game against Colombia their "biggest in a decade" after defeat by Belgium meant his team finished second in Group G.
Having made eight changes, including resting captain Harry Kane, Southgate saw an Adnan Januzaj goal clinch victory and top spot for a much-changed Belgium.
Southgate, however, defended his selection by claiming the Colombia clash in Moscow was England's biggest in 10 years and that he needed his players fresh.
"This was a game that we wanted to win but the knockout game is the biggest game for a decade for us, so we had to make sure our key players were preserved," said Southgate. "The players who've played tonight have given absolutely everything and never stopped. Everyone's seen the level that we've been playing at and we've got to keep improving."
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England have only won two World Cup knockout matches since 1990 and lost to Germany in the last 16 of the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
Southgate added: "We want to win football matches, so we're not happy to come away from here having been beaten. But what that means for the next round, we don't really know.
On England's performance, Southgate said: "It was a pretty even game. They had the better controlled possession, and the better chances in the first half. But we had a couple of good ones in the second. It was a good test for us. We had half an eye on the knockout."