Why England may want a second place finish

England went into game day two of the 2018 World Cup knowing that 3pts would secure their place in the last 16 of the tournament.

A win they needed. A win they got. The three lions demolished Panama 6-1 and in doing so matched Belgium at the top of the group table. With points, goals scored, and goals conceded all level, the two teams could only be separated via the fair play rule. After picking up less bookings so far in the group stages, England took top spot. A position they may want to avoid come the final whistle against Belgium.

What would England’s current route be as if things remained the same in other groups?

1st place finish:                                                              

Last- 16 – Senegal

Quarter-finals – Brazil or Germany

Semi-finals – France or Portugal

Final – Spain

2nd place finish:

Last-16 – Japan

Quarter-finals – Switzerland or Mexico

Semi-final – Spain or Croatia

Final – Brazil

Obviously, as you would expect for a tournament of the World Cup’s calibre, neither sector seems particularly appealing with both packed full of quality opposition. However, in terms of the quarter-finals especially, the possibility of a tie against Switzerland or Mexico may seem more preferable compared to a tie against Brazil or Germany. Taking into consideration they are the favourites and current holders respectively.

It will be a situation that England boss Gareth Southgate will have to consider over the course of the next week. Coming off the back of a sublime result, is it better to keep the rhythm going?

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez has already made it clear that he has the intentions to rest some of his key players in the final game of the groups, against England. He was asked on the matter after his side already confirmed their qualification by beating Tunisia, 5-2. In response he said:

“The answer is very clear. If we could have seven days to prepare the game and then have seven days for the next game I would say carry on with the same starting XI. The reality now is that we are qualified, and in a tournament like the World Cup you’re only as good as the 23 players in your squad. There’ll be opportunities to give minutes to other players who deserve them. We need to assess the three injury concerns.”

If Southgate had been offered this dilemma prior to the tournament, he will have surely snapped at it. So, while it’s not a bad situation to be in, it is a frustrating one, surely. Realistically, it shouldn’t be spoke about for a football team to want to lose a game, every game should be approached with the aim to win. Although, it is difficult circumstances. Some might argue if it is more beneficial to the whole tournament, 2nd is fine.

Of course, it has to be remembered that those potential routes could all change on the final day of the groups.

What are your thoughts, do you think England should look to finish top of the group or as runners up?

Let us know in the comments.

By James Miller

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