2018 WORLD CUP : ENGLAND vs. BELGIUM.
FINAL SCORE: ENGLAND 0 – BELGIUM 1
We already knew that Gareth Southgate is an England manager not afraid to be bold. Now we know he is a gambler. For all the talk of England needing to play football without fear they have put themselves under immediate pressure by making wholesale changes and losing their final Group G fixture to finish runners-up to Belgium.
Gareth Southgate made eight changes from England’s win against Panama, while opposite number Roberto Martinez made nine alterations – proving victory was not exactly the top priority as the tournament moves towards the knockout phase.
OK, England have dropped into the apparently easier half of the draw and this may all turn out to be for the best but they first face Colombia, and their 30,000-strong feverish fans who will make Moscow feel like Bogota, in the last-16.
England – who desperately missed absent captain and leading World Cup scorer Harry Kane – barely threatened, though Marcus Rashford should have equalised, Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois touching his effort wide after he ran clear.
If England lose that then much of the sense of progress from the 2018 WORLD CUP tournament will wash away and they would return home having only beaten Tunisia and Panama and yet again failing to claim a big scalp.
Southgate must now reflect on England’s first loss at this World Cup as he prepares to face the dangerous Colombians in Moscow on Tuesday at 19:00 BST, while Belgium go to Rostov to play Japan on Monday.
That is the worst case scenario. On the flip side they are only games against Colombia and either Switzerland or Sweden away from reaching a World Cup semi-final and that is a tantalising prospect.
You can tie yourself in knots on permutations but it was Belgium coach Roberto Martinez who summed it up. “We have to focus on Japan,” he said of his side’s next opponents. “England will focus on Colombia and if you look further than that you are risking a lot.” England have taken that risk, whatever arguments Southgate puts forward on the need to rest and rotate.
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