The last out of the group games at World Cup 2018 finished on Thursday night, as Belgium defeated England 1-0 in Group H. The win means that the Red Devils finish top of their group, while the Three Lions finished as runners-up.
The game was strange, as both teams had already booked their spots in the last 16, so rested their star players. In fact, the team’s starting line-ups looked unrecognisable from their previous two games.
Did either team want to win this game?
In the end, a superb strike from Real Sociedad winger Adnan Januzaj won the game for Roberto Martinez’s team. However, before the goal, neither side seemed that interested or that threatening in front of goal.
The fact that the team that finished second in the group looks to have a more comfortable route to the semi-finals will have been in the back of their minds. Belgium seemed quite happy to finish second until the goal. England’s backup players were just not good enough.
The closest that England came to finding the net was when Marcus Rashford found himself through on goal, only for Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to get a hand on his effort and the shot to go wide of goal. I wonder if it was in the back of the striker’s mind that it was not advantageous to England to score.
Concentrate on Colombia now
After finishing second in the group, England will face dangerous South American team Colombia in the knockout stages on Tuesday night. The thinking of finishing second to get a more accessible route to the semi-finals only works if you win the last 16 game.
Undoubtedly, Colombia are harder last 16 opponents than Japan, who Belgium now play in their knockout stage game. Jose Pekerman’s side are no pushovers, but they are unpredictable.
They can be outstanding, as they were against Poland or they can disappoint. The South American team has dangerous players like Radamel Falcao, Juan Quintero, Juan Cuadrado and James Rodriguez.
However, the latter limped out of their last group game against Senegal after just 30 minutes. He will be a significant concern for Colombia. If he is not fit to face England, it is a significant boost for Gareth Southgate’s team.
Star players will be fresh for Colombia game
Gareth Southgate’s decision to rest a number of his star players against Belgium, including the likes of Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling could be a shrewd one.
They will now be fresh to face Colombia, who had to field a full-strength team on Wednesday to make it through to the knockout stages. That will surely give England the advantage.
England’s 12-game unbeaten run may have ended against Belgium. However, for once a defeat at a World Cup is not a disaster for the Three Lions. It could prove to be an advantage.
While no game is easy in a World Cup, I do believe that if England make it past Colombia that Switzerland or Sweden would be more accommodating opponents than competition favourites Brazil in the quarter-finals.
Who knows, Colombia may beat the Three Lions in the last 16 and they could head home early. However, there seems to be a positive vibe about the Three Lions and one defeat in unusual circumstances will not spoil that vibe.
How far can England go at World Cup 2018?