Tuesday, 25 September, 2018

England's World Cup odds improve despite Belgium defeat

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Sergio Cook | 30 June, 2018, 18:32

Whichever side comes out on top between England and Belgium will face the runner-up of Group H - with Colombia, Senegal and Japan in a three-way battle to fill the top two spots.

Martinez wants to keep history out of Thursday's game, hoping to rest key players and unsure that finishing first is an advantage given the possible future opponents.

"It wasn't a good game at all really but I suppose we were through already".

Asked if he had put himself under pressure Southgate said: "Maybe I have, maybe I haven't. Whatever happens next week that was the right decision", he added. That is the least of my concerns. "Everybody knows the most important game is the knockout round".

England made eight changes to the team who crushed Panama 6-1 but the uninspiring performance against Belgium highlighted that their options on the bench are not as rich as believed.

"So, we're in to big matches where margins will be fine and judgment on me will be extremely harsh".

Plenty were unsure about whether or not actually winning the game was desirable or not, with a potentially easier path to the latter stages perhaps available by losing. Sammy Sadovnik calls England-Belgium on Telemundo and NBCSN, joined by Eduardo Biscayart and Diego Forlan. "I wasn't so comfortable with the love-in in the buildup to Belgium, to be honest, so it's nice that there's a little bit of an edge back".

Having got this unusual game out of the way, both Belgium and England can now focus fully on going deep into the World Cup knock-out stages and their fresh legs could be crucial. It is now over to Kane, Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard to bring it back. That could give England's Harry Kane an opportunity to extend his lead in the Golden Boot race, with the Tottenham star on five goals, while Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored four apiece.

"It doesn't derail us", he said.

Two of the tournament's most underwhelming teams meet up in the first match of the Round of 16. "The lads coming in demonstrated to me that if he [Southgate] wants to change things, if he's up against things as the competition goes on, he's not going to be able to count on the likes of Fabian Delph, Loftus-Cheek".

England's support has swelled as the team have excelled in the tournament. Meanwhile, England, if it beats a James Rodriguez-less Colombia side (which it should), will get the victor of Sweden-Switzerland.

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

How does Southgate play this one, then? I know in some quarters that will be criticised but I am entirely comfortable with that. We all trust him as a group and hopefully it's the right decision in the long run. At Elland Road on June 7, after they took their time breaking down Costa Rica, Southgate said he had encouraged his players to talk about their lives and the challenges they had faced.

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