England knockout permutations: Would a second-placed finish in Group G be preferable?
A first-placed finish could lead to a tougher draw
Last Updated: 25/06/18 9:45am
England booked their place in the World Cup knockout stages with their 6-1 win over Panama, but who could they face next? And would it be preferable to go through as runners-up behind Group G rivals Belgium?
England and Belgium are level for points, goals scored and goal difference ahead of Thursday's showdown in Kaliningrad, but England's superior fair play record (they have only received two bookings to Belgium's three) puts them in first place as it stands.
"I think we would want to keep momentum, keep progressing as a team," said Gareth Southgate when quizzed on England's potential route to the final after the win over Panama.
"I've heard talk of whether it's better to finish first or second. I'm not sure how we're going to work all of that out in all honesty, so let's just go and enjoy the game again."
Southgate's comments are defiant but Roberto Martinez has already promised to make "major changes" to his Belgium line-up and both managers will be aware that a first-placed finish is likely to put them in a tougher side of the draw.
England's possible route to the final if they win Group G
- Last-16: Senegal
- Quarter-finals: Brazil or Germany
- Semi-finals: France or Portugal
- Final: Spain
England's possible route to the final if they finish second in Group G
- Last-16: Japan
- Quarter-finals: Switzerland or Mexico
- Semi-finals: Spain or Croatia
- Final: Brazil
Finish top of Group G and, should they see off one of Senegal, Japan, Poland or Colombia in the last 16, England are likely to face the winner of a blockbuster tie between Brazil and Germany, who are currently second in Group F, in the quarter-finals.
Finish second, however, and their quarter-final prospects look kinder. If there are no surprises in Group E and Group F and the standings stay as they are, England would instead face the winner of a last-16 tie between Mexico and Switzerland in the last eight, giving them a real chance of reaching the semis.
At that point, both sides of the draw look tough, with the likes of France, Argentina, Uruguay, Spain and Portugual among the sides England could come up against.
In order to give themselves the best chance of getting that far, however, they might be best off finishing second and avoiding a possible quarter-final showdown with reigning champions Germany or their fellow World Cup heavyweights Brazil.
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