England will want to top Group G over Belgium even if there is a potential advantage in finishing second, says World Cup Supplement guest Matt Lawton.
The Three Lions secured their spot in the World Cup round of 16 with a record-breaking 6-1 victory over Panama on Sunday – their biggest ever win at a major tournament – while Roberto Martinez’s side cruised into the knockouts with a 5-2 win over Tunisia on Saturday.
Both sides, who have near-identical records after two games, go head-to-head on Thursday to determine the group winner with England holding the current advantage due to higher fair play points.
An England win would see them face the runners-up of Group H, a defeat would see them face the winners of Group H and a draw would depend on the number of cards accumulated. If England and Belgium draw with identical fair play points, lots will be drawn to determine the two positions.
There is an argument that the team finishing second could have a potentially easier run, as the group winners could face Germany or Brazil in a potential quarter-final, but Daily Mail chief sports writer Lawton insists that it is the last thing England will be thinking of.
“I think the biggest indication that Southgate isn’t thinking in that way is the fact that England kept scoring [against Panama],” he told the World Cup Supplement Podcast.
“We were sat there thinking ‘right, that’s enough’ because if you’re not careful you can beat [Belgium] on goal difference and go above them.
“Henderson nearly scored when it was 6-1 and he had his hands on his head! He was gutted that he had missed.
“That showed that this is not a team not fussed about finishing second, they were not thinking like that. They are playing to win.”
1:10 We look at who England could face in the knockout stages
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has hinted he could make changes for the final group game but Daily Telegraph chief football correspondent Jason Burt thinks this could be easier said than done, claiming players such as Chelsea’s Eden Hazard will want to feature.
He added: “I’m sure it won’t be easy for Roberto Martinez to leave out some of his players – they will want to face England.
“I think he will find it difficult to get some of his big name players to say ‘no, I don’t want to play’.
“Obviously some of them are carrying injuries, we may not see Lukaku but Hazard will want to play.
“Even if you rest and rotate players and say ‘we’re happy to finish second’ – how do you actually do that?
“I’m not quite sure how you go into a game thinking that you actually don’t want to win it.”