GROUP G – England [rank 13 opponents are: Tunisia [rank 14] Monday 18 June in Volgograd] Panama [[rank 55] Sunday 24 June in Nizhny Novgorod, Belgium [[rank 3] Thursday 28 June in Kaliningrad [pre-June rankings]
England’s final Group game in two-days time in the cool of Kaliningrad against higher ranked and rich-in-talent Belgium, is one of those that really can’t be called, and that is simply because so much depends on how much either team ‘wants’ to win, rather than just what happens on the pitch, doesn’t it?
Yep, both teams have already qualified for the ‘knockout phase’ that starts with ‘The Group of Sixteen,’ formed by the top two from each of the 8 initial Groups A to H.
That means that both teams are simply playing to head Group G, and that determines who they would play in the last sixteen AND the Venue – in this instance that doesn’t seem to matter ‘all that much’ because there isn’t much of a difference to choose between the opponent probables, is there? The next opposition for the Group G winner is possibly credible Senegal, or alternatively for Group G runner-up, the underrated Japan [or inconsistent Columbia in either case], with all their matches being in the afternoon, BEFORE England play – so the die will have been cast.
Hence, R-U potentially has the ‘easier’ draw, and also the Moscow venue is much closer to the England camp, and also in a better climate. Moreover, the Group G winner would subsequently (if they make the Quarter Finals) probably be heading into the likely jaws of (stuttering?) Germany or Brazil, rather than the likes of Switzerland, eh?
Perhaps Southgate should tell the team to conserve their energy and ‘hope’ to come away with a bit of a defeat – the purists would say that just isn’t cricket though, perhaps?
[However, we see such matters played-out in such a manner in football all the time (like weaker teams fielded in CUP matches, or major players ‘rested’ in matches considered ‘less-important’?)].
However, the Belgium manager Martinez, may well be making the same calculation, and moreover he now ‘apparently’ has a couple of injured major players (like Hazard), as a good (ploy?) excuse for losing this one, hasn’t he?
Saying that, both managers face a quandary or conundrum on the issue, because if their team doesn’t actually use their best efforts to ‘win’ this match, they will face the consequences of have broken FIFA code/rules of fair play, so what consequences would follow that, one wonders?
This actually leaves Southgate in particular with a dilemma, because while there are distinct advantages in playing a stable ‘first-choice’ line-up to provide ongoing familiarity and continuity of playing style [though the manager didn’t do it in the two friendly games (against Nigeria & Costa Rica), did he?], that has to be offset against the benefits of playing some ‘backups’, for them to gain early experience of involvement in this World Cup (seemingly a priority for him in maintaining squad moral?), in case they need to be called-upon later in the competition, don’t you think?
Nevertheless, some of us believe that England’s best bet is to play the ‘preferred’ team, to gain better understanding while playing against a top team, which will stand them in good stead for later challenges, but with simple instructions to play well, try hard, avoid injury at all costs, definitely steer-clear of a booking,– then see how it turns out, eh?
The one thing you can be certain of though, is that both Southgate and Martinez will be very vocal in expressing their (sincere?) intention of selecting their best team and utter determination to win this game no matter what, eh?
[When Southgate puts out his team-sheet before the match on Thursday, we will see if he really is a winner (or just like the past losers), don’t you think? If he plays the ‘second-eleven’ but with Kane as captain (to maintain his chances in the ‘Golden Boot), it doesn’t auger well, does it?].
World Cup Finals’ Rules for progression
Group Stage: 4 teams in each of 8 league groups [A B C D E F G]
Top 2 teams in each Group qualify to progress
Round of Sixteen Winner A v. Runner-up B = 1
Winner B v. Runner-up A = 2
Winner C v. Runner-up D = 3
Winner D v. Runner-up C = 4
Winner E v. Runner-up F = 5
Winner F v. Runner-up E = 6
Winner G v. Runner-up H = 7
Winner H v. Runner-up G = 8
All winning 8 teams to progress
Quarter Finals Winner 1 v. Winner 3 = A
Winner 2 v. Winner 4 = B
Winner 5 v. Winner 7 = C
Winner 6 v. Winner 8 = D
The winning 4 teams to progress
Semi Finals Winner A v. Winner C
Winner B v. Winner D
The winning 2 teams to progress
Final 15th July