World Cup Supplement: Risk or masterstroke by Gareth Southgate?

England face Colombia in the last 16 after losing to Belgium but the World Cup Supplement panel are wondering whether Gareth Southgate’s decision to rest key players, including captain Harry Kane, was an unnecessary risk or a masterstroke.

Southgate made eight changes for the 1-0 defeat that left England in second spot in Group G, meaning that they must now play Colombia on Tuesday instead of Japan on Monday. It leaves the England boss open to criticism if they should lose.

“We have lost momentum,” argued Dominic Fifield, the Guardian’s London football correspondent, who pointed to Roy Hodgson’s decision to rest players for the final group game against Slovakia at Euro 2016 only to lose to Iceland in England’s first knockout game.

Southgate: I’ll take any criticism

“I guess the fact that his first team can go back into training on Saturday without any recovery work is a benefit and effectively gives them an extra day to prepare for the game against Colombia, but the concern is that we have gone down the same route as 2016.

“We have made so many changes in the last group game that he is left in a situation where if he loses on Tuesday how is this tournament viewed? Two wins and two defeats. What progress will we have made if we lose on Tuesday?

What did Southgate learn?

“Southgate has got enough credit in the bank and we have to trust the strategy but I think some of it was a bit unnecessary. I can’t believe Harry Kane wanted to sit on the bench.

“I know there is logic to it, but knowing Kane I can’t imagine he would have put up with that easily. He wants to be two or three goals ahead in the Golden Boot.

“He has taken a risk, but it may yet prove a masterstroke.”

Matt Dickinson, chief sports writer for the Times, shared the view that the defeat in Kaliningrad had changed the mood surrounding England but suggested this was typical of Southgate’s focus on taking a strategic, longer-term view.

“I used the word deflating last night,” said Dickinson. “It felt like a bit of the air had gone out, but Gareth Southgate … is a manager who is trying to see the job not as just stumbling from one day to the next. He is trying to see strategy.

England’s route to the final?

“We have been singing his praises for the last few weeks in saying that he is trying to get rid of the fear factor and that he is trying to change the whole mindset of England players at tournaments. We have all said he has got a lot of that right.

“This is the first time in tournament conditions that he has made a huge call as part of that strategy. Even he has said to question it. He has not said: ‘I am right, you are wrong.’ He is saying: ‘I have a made a strategic decision and will stand or fall by it.’

So did Gareth Southgate make the right call? Comment below to get involved in the debate, but please adhere to our House Rules. If you wish to report any comment, simply click on the down arrow next to the offending comment and click ‘Report’.

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