Match thrown

England beaten to top spot by Belgium.

It was a fixture that a lot of people looked forward to. England facing off against a proper side with real quality. In the end though it was a dull, cagey affair, played with the tempo of a warm up game.

Much was made of the potential passages England could face in the knockout stages if they went for first or settled for second. In the end it looks as though Southgate settled for the latter as England’s tempo and approach was tame.

Let down

It was ultimately a nothing game. Neither side will be too concerned with their performances, but it was dour.

Both teams and sets of fans will have been happy enough that their star players could get a much needed rest. Their work was done prior to this game with both nations on six points. The situation left Southgate with a not insignificant dilemma. Did he rest and rotate or build on the confidence of his players used thus far?

In fairness to the England Manager he made a sensible call and rested the big guns but that still left him with reasonable reserves.

With Vardy and Rashford up front, England had plenty of pace, but oddly much of the game was played at a sluggish pace. England’s passes were careful and pedestrian. Whilst pressing was kept to a minimum.

There was a lack of a creative spark by both teams, as Belgium also rotated with the group sorted. However England should be worried by their lack of enguinity in midfield.

With the big boys restored, no doubt England will feel more confident. But you couldn’t help but feel their hearts weren’t quite in this one.

Brazil theory

England’s path through the knockouts is now established. If they can best Columbia in Moscow on 3rd July they will either face Sweden and Switzerland in the quarters. The up shot is, they avoid Brazil.

However surely this argument is flawed when you consider that this is a knockout tournament and sooner rather than later you will be playing a good side. Southgate may have been better going for it and defiantly shown a winning mentality.

Yes Southgate will want to make a name for himself and take England as far as he can. However surely winning against the first proper team they have faced would have led to confidence sky rocketing.

Playing by the numbers and trying to hedge your bets is a bit of a cop out. Belgium were beatable as are Brazil, yet England didn’t look like they wanted to have a go. They played within themselves for the first time this tournament and have now arguably created more question marks.

Keeper issues

Pickford was far from poor, but there were a couple of warning signs that don’t boad well.

He made a couple of basic saves look a tad unconvincing which raises recent doubts about that position for England. If he is to be more tested in the more challenging group stages, he will need to show a lot more.

Columbia challenge

The second round tie with Columbia is going to be tough. They are a side that rise to the challenge and play with pace and intensity. On their day they will feel confident they can beat anyone.

England will be hoping for just a third knockout win at a World Cup since, incredibly, Italia ’90. Whether or not their decision was wise to discard the Belgium game, we will no doubt find out. But people are kidding themselves if they think there is now a red carpet to the final.

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