Published: Fri, June 29, 2018
Sports | By Brett Lawson

Top of the group, or second

Top of the group, or second

Southgate has made it plain that he wants that to be England, but nonetheless he won't be fielding his first XI, with Eric Dier, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones and Trent Alexander-Arnold all expected to make their World Cup bows.

This will be the fourth meeting of the two nations in major tournaments.

What looked like being one of the ties of the group stage instead became a rather odd encounter given the talk about the most favourable knockout route, including suggestions that finishing runners-up may be preferable.

Reach the final from there, and England will face whoever has emerged from the other side of the draw.

By winning the match and thus the group, Belgium moves to the "side of death" for the knockout round, where four of the top five teams in the world according to Federation Internationale de Football Association rankings - Brazil, Belgium, Portugal, and Argentina - will all compete for one spot in the final.

Belgium came close to a second goal in the final minutes when Jordan Pickford made a diving save to keep out a rasping Dries Mertens effort but by then both sides seemed to have accepted their lot as they looked ahead to the second round.

Both teams have already booked qualification but there is pride to play for, added to the potential of facing a less tougher opponent in the next round. This means that if there's a draw, the victor will be decided by the fairplay score.

"We want to win football matches and we also know the big game is the knockout tie to come, so it was hard to balance all of those", he added.

But although Belgium's Spanish coach Roberto Martinez is talking about the match as a "celebration", where winning is less important that rotating his squad, for Belgian fans there is a hunger for revenge for 28 years of hurt since Italia '90.

Romelu Lukaku: It’s now or never for Belgium’s golden generation
Maybe the two tournaments were a bit different where we arrived and we were thinking about what was going to happen. Lukaku has 15 goals in his last 10 worldwide matches but left in the 59th minute after injuring an ankle ligament.

"We are not looking at paths", Martinez said.

"We had an opportunity to show all the talent we have in the group", he said.

Yet what did we really learn?

"There are players on yellow cards". Players have been in very demanding games. I know this meant the game against Belgium was a little bit flat, but every player in that dressing room knows why we've done what we've done.

But coach Gareth Southgate said his team are focused on winning, not on plotting a particular route through the knockout stages.

Victory for either would see them top Group G, and Dier believes familiarity with numerous Belgians on Thursday could help England's cause. I understand why people question those decisions, but we have to prepare the team in the way we feel right. The Belgians, though, are known for their pragmatism and may not be as anxious about this perception of right and wrong, if the pre-game chatter is to be believed. Although it must have hurt it certainly had fans laughing. The match came to be known as the Disgrace of Gijon.

Audrey Robinson, 46, of Fulwell, said: "You'd expect better even though they didn't have a full team out because neither did Belgium".

Southgate did not get off the bench during the 2002 World Cup, and has spoken about how, while he clearly wished his team-mates well, ultimately it is not an enjoyable experience for those not involved. And both players will be keen to increase their tally tomorrow.

A win against Japan could potentially set up a tricky fixture against Brazil in the quarter finals.

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