England would be daft to consider beating Belgium…

Date published: Monday 25th June 2018 1:31

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Naive not to finish second
I’ve heard a lot of talk about you can’t pick and choose who you want to play in the next rounds and you must build momentum etc. Usually from ex-England pros.

How can people this naive??

Think about it logically for one second. Are England a team that are good enough to break their backs to Belgium, then Colombia, then Brazil, France and then Spain in the final?

Are they hell.

So if you have the luxury to rest the majority of the first team, knowing that if you were to lose against Belgium and avoiding this nightmare route to glory…so be it.

Now, are England good enough to beat Japan after a rest, then beat either Mexico or Switzerland in the quarters? 100% good enough.

Then England find themselves in a World Cup semi with nothing to lose where anything can happen.

England and particularly Southgate can not afford to be so naive into this macho thinking of “well you need to beat the best at some point to win”

Yea…lets leave it until the semi and then final shall we??!!

Let’s flip it on its head. If winning the group meant avoiding this nightmare path to glory, then we would all be praying we beat the Belgians to avoid it…so what’s the difference?!

Wake up ffs
Ginger Pirlo


…There has already been a few murmurings in the press/podcasts about how England approach the Belgium game and the permutations from here. Let’s start with indisputable fact number 1) England Belgium is the last group game of the tournament. Both teams will know who’s finished first and second in every other group. So by Thursday night, England will know how Columbia, Japan and Senegal have landed. They will also know how Germany and Brazil’s group finished with an eye on potential quarter final opponents.

Now I’ll go out on a limb here. Give me a choice between Columbia, Japan and Senegal I want to avoid Columbia all day. I see a far greater chance of Columbia eliminating us than the other 2. Second, give me a choice between a quarter final against Brazil or Germany, or probably Switzerland or Mexico, again I want to avoid Brazil or Germany. Now a lot of permutations you might say, but it is fairly likely that a Columbia then Brazil/Germany route is the reward for topping the group. It might not be, but whatever it is we will know by kick off. Start planning Gareth.

Now for indisputable fact number 2) as far as we go in this tournament from here there will be games every 3 to 4 days until either we go home or (don’t say it) we win the thing. So to me it’s a no brainer, we absolutely 100% do not throw this game, that’s a disaster for morale, but we absolutely do rotate significantly. Many of our reserves deserve and need game time, and are really not significant downgrades. To not give some of the starters a rest given what’s to come would be crazy, particularly when the downside may well have the significant upside of a better draw.

It’s very English to say, let’s go out and beat them, we’ll take on anyone. Whether we get a first semi-final in 28 years I suspect depends very heavily on how this plays out. Look at tournament history, so called “successful” teams, particularly the lower elite like England making it to semi-finals and finals will very often have a favourable draw to get there. Let’s not win the battle to lose the war. Rest our top boys, be fresh, and if it comes down to a yellow card in the last 15 minutes, maybe just maybe, we play the game a little bit.
Dan, Herts


…The great thing for England is that we are in Group G, so we will know how the draw is shaping up before we play.

According to the never-wrong Mark Lawrenson, the last 16 could end up like this:

Russia …………………….. Spain
Portugal …………………… Uruguay
France …………………….. Croatia
Argentina ………………….. Denmark
Brazil …………………….. Mexico
Germany ……………………. Switzerland
England ……………………. Senegal
Colombia …………………… Belgium

This is based on:

a) Spain outscoring Portugal in the last game and thus topping the group, otherwise they too would be on the left side of the draw.

b) Colombia drawing their last game against Senegal.

c) England beating Belgium.

Now, England would have to exceed themselves to make the semis or the final, but which side of that draw would you rather be in? Finishing second might mean beating Senegal and Mexico to get to the semis, whereas first might mean Colombia and the here-we-go-again scenario of Germany or Brazil. I honestly think that if the draw is shaping up like this come Thursday, we should consider either losing the game against Belgium, or drawing it and ruining our fair play record by kicking Hazard as many times as possible.


Not convinced
While not wishing to unduly piss on anyone’s chips, I’m not convinced at all by this England side. England have performed well to their limited ability but some of the coverage has seemed utterly bizarre to me. Are we watching the same side? To me the football is still pretty sloppy, stodgy stuff, illuminated by impressive set piece routines and some great moments of individual quality. I enjoyed yesterday’s game but this side looks very flawed and I am worried about what will happen when we play a side with more composure and quality in the final third.

In 2 games we’ve scored 8 goals against very low quality opposition. 6 have come from set pieces, 1 was an extremely lucky deflection and the other a mid-to-long range effort. Against Panama we barely had the keeper in any bother except from set pieces, and had almost no play in their box in open play. This is similar to the Tunisia game in which we reverted to impatient, sloppy, Good Old England in the 2nd half after they decided to sit back for a point.

We cannot ignore just how poor these sides were. Panama qualified by the skin of their teeth from an awful CONCACAF group, winning 3, drawing 4 games and losing 3. They lost to Trinidad and Tobago and recently got spanked 6-0 by Switzerland, and they Tunisia qualified one point ahead of DR Congo in their group (rounded off by Guinea and Libya). They are certainly miles better than Panama but they are very limited (Wahbi Kazri as a lone striker speaks for itself).

There is still a striking lack of technical quality in the England team. Almost every touch to me looks just slightly off, and as the passes build up this slows momentum and makes everything look laboured and difficult. We are also missing a technical, playmaking midfielder who plays on the half turn. This would allow us to exploit fully the speedy runners we have all over the pitch. The most concerning thing still remains poor decision making coupled with thoughtless passing from defence to midfield. We have lost the ball numerous times in dangerous areas and good sides will punish us heavily. See for example Colombia’s performance last night in eviscerating Poland’s back 5 when they gave the ball away.

As for the formation, given how poor we often look playing out of defence, staying wedded to a back 3 seems really odd. Much has been made of us not having to crowbar in star players, but instead we are playing a lot of players out of position in this system. Walker at CB, Sterling as a 10, Lingard and Dele Alli as central midfielders, Young at LWB (I know this is nominally where he plays now, but come on…). None of the CBs play in a back 3 at club level. I can’t shake the feeling this will get badly found out at some point.

That being said, this seems to be the World Cup of Set Pieces. England’s advantage in this area looks as good as any other team, and with a bit of luck, could see us get further than our lack of quality on the ball should allow. Go ahead and accuse me of lacking joy, but my enjoyment of this World Cup is not dependent on England’s performances, and I’m not going to apologise for pointing out this side’s glaring deficiencies! While the England players are definitely more likeable than in years past, the football, for me, still requires a lot of work, from grassroots level to the national team.
Sam H, Liverpool


…I don’t mean to piss on anyone’s chips but you only scored two goals from open play and one of them was a fluke. Against the worst team at the world cup.

Set-pieces are important and all but I can’t see the big boys being quite so disorganised somehow.
Geraint (alright, maybe I did want to piss on your chips), SCFC


England’s penalty strategy
Peter G’s mail got me thinking, England could do worse than this for a penalty strategy in the (inevitable) quarterfinal shootout. Penalty #1: Harry Kane. Penalty #2: Harry Kane in a mustache (one of the Old Tyme-y ones). Penalty #3: Harry Kane with a fully beard. Penalty #4: Harry Kane with a top hat. Penalty #5: Unnecessary, because you also fit Jordan Pickford with a really, really large Sumo suit.
Ian, LFC Hartford, CT USA


Forced substitutions
A lot has been made about time wasting over the last few years and it seems to be the main tactic of some of teams of this World Cup. Players go down like a sack of spuds, roll around, wave on the physio then are miraculously fine 90 seconds later. Whilst this isn’t a new problem it is a growing one with CBs and GKs joining forwards in the act.

Whilst a true stopwatch system has been touted I have another suggestion, forced substitutions. If a player requires treatment 2 or 3 times during a game then they must be subbed. Anyone who has been injured 3 times should be too hurt to continue and must be removed as a safety precaution. If every stoppage of play with a player on the deck requires a physio visit then teams would soon stop rolling on the floor because they would run out of subs by half-time.
Joe, Midlands


As good as it gets?
Nostalgia plays a significant part in our recollections. Sepia tinted images of World Cup ’90 or the bright lights of ’94 can make those tournaments feel like the ‘good ol’ days’ (Italia ’90 wasn’t that great for example). This World Cup is, however, a constant stream of incredibly entertaining matches with established and new players coming to the fore (Quintero was magnificent last night). Established teams and the unfancied teams vying for qualification, and goals….lots of them.

This is effectively the first knockout round of the tournament. There is a decent chance that Argentina, Germany, and either Spain or Portugal could be going home early (they could all equally qualify of course!)…and England seem to be harmonious, happy and winning at present.

It’s been fantastic.
Dan Mallerman


…Amongst all the wonderful football, last minute winners and countless lost bets, my favourite things about a World Cup is other people.

Seeing friends who you’ve been meaning to meet up with, going for a cheeky pint after work on a Monday to catch the first-half, talking to your mum on FaceTime about Toni Kroos or chatting to random people in pubs about that 3-3 game between Portugal and Spain.

Football can so often bring out the worst in people. Stadiums can be riddled with racism and homophobia. Fans are regularly loud and over lubricated, generally making pubs feel a bit like an Oasis gig in the 90s. But not the World Cup, oh no.

The World Cup is different. Differences are to be celebrated, nationalities are to be proud of and football becomes a sport of the people.

32 games down, 32 to go. I’m already mourning it’s absence.


Recommended reading
Brilliant article by Jonny Nic on Southgate. Thoroughly recommend anyone and everyone to read Woody and Nord, Southgate’s biography with team mate and unlikely best friend, Andy Woodman. The book exemplifies how Southgate has thrived after being written off as a middle class softy and also includes a brilliant story about how Andy Woodman tricked Stan Collymore into wasting his signing on fee.
Joe, Midlands


Numbers are fun
Some fun statistics….

All 3 of Russia, Belgium and England have scored 8 goals in their first two games. This is the same number of goals Spain scored in the entire tournament when they won it in 2010.

In 2 games Harry Kane has scored the same number of World Cup goals as Lionel Messi has over 4 tournaments.

And my favourite. In just two games John Stones has scored more World Cup goals than Wayne Rooney did across 3 tournaments.

What a World Cup this has been so far!
Bradley Kirrage.


Phil Jones’ moment is upon us
If the match between England and Belgium is heading towards a draw on Thursday, and the goal difference is exactly the same for both teams, the team that finishes with the most yellow cards in the tournament so far could be the team that finishes second, and possibly an easier route through the competition.

Deep into injury time and with both teams on 5 yellow cards Gareth summons up Phil Jones. Phil excitedly removes his bib, does some stretches and stands by Gareths side on the touchline, eager to find out how his boss intends on deploying him to the benefit of the team.

Phil: What are the tactics boss?
Gareth: See the guy in black Phil?
Phil: The ref? Yeah.
Gareth: I want you to go on and call him a tw*t
Chris ITFC, Liverpool


No Kane fanfare?
An English player scores a hat trick in the World Cup Finals for the first time in 32 years.

Yet not one mention of this in the Monday Morning Mails .

Can’t help thinking that if a certain Egyptian (or any other nationality for that matter) had done likewise, you would be hiring extra staff to cope.
Philip Brady


In defence of Jason Cundy
There have been a few references to female commentators and pundits at the world cup and it seems that the argument is that if you don’t welcome it then you are some kind of misogynist. Well, here comes the misogyny …

A commentator is really only there to provide a kind of background noise to the game, say the players names and describe the action. They don’t provide any insight. That’s the job of the co-commentator. When the commentator’s voice is female, it is unusual, and is a distraction, because it is incongruous. It’s going to be difficult for a lot of people to get used to. I’m not saying women shouldn’t be commentating. I am saying it’s not sexist to not want to listen to them commentating. I feel exactly the same about Jonathan Pearce. His over-excited commetary distracts me from the action, so I don’t like to listen to him.

Not everything is sexist


Fallen for Colombia
Can I just say that I am in love with Colombia. They remind me of being a kid and playing footy on the park with my mates.

Yes tactically they might be naive and yes it sounds like they took preparations for this World Cup about as seriously as we take the daily mail but by god they are fun.

The joy in which they play attacking football and streak forward and not to mention their crazy infectious fans makes me hope they stay in this tournament as long as possible. Maybe losing 6-5 to England in the final.
Richard, Manchester.


What might’ve been
To give England’s performance some context, a reminder to everyone that had it not been for The Daily Telegraph’s tragic “entrapment” (as termed by FA CEO Martin Glen) of Sam Allardyce loquacious mouth, England would have probably been lining up with Hart in goal, Smalling & Cahill in defence, Wilshere in midfield, and Rooney crowbarred somewhere in attack.

Have to admire Southgate for breaking the mould and the players for proving him right.
Anuj (Has anyone ever scored a luckier/easier hattrick than Kane? Genuine Question) MUFC


A few other things
Having taken in every game this weekend in some form or another you’ll be amazed to learn I have a few opinions.

*As much as “never write off the Germans” is a cliché and a half, it’s easy to understate the nature of their win. While desperate times called for desperate measures, how many coaches in all of football would have made the same call as Joachim Löw? I can think of several managers who, having had a centre-back sent off, would have shut up shop, taken the 1-1 and put all their chances on the final group game. Jogi, on the other hand, played with one defender (plus Joshua Kimmich) and threw everyone forward in search of a winner. You don’t have to support them to admire firstly the way he took that decision, and then for how they reaped the reward.

*I’ve mentioned previously that my brother lives in Japan and he was emailing me all through Japan v Senegal. This was the best game of Sunday, rather than having the best or worst team performances. Last week I read an article on SBNation about how it’s patronising, inaccurate and lazy for pundits to default to comments about Senegal’s “pace and power”, even though they have some skilful players or, in the case of Sadio Mane, some very skilful players. Sure enough, about 30 seconds into the match, Kevin Kilbane trotted out the line about “pace and power”. Senegal’s success so far has been down to their positioning and organisation in attack (to take advantage of defensive lapses) and superb finishing. Japan have some exciting players too – Takashi Inui has certainly caught the eye and E Honda has changed both games for his team when he’s been introduced.

Both teams were good value for their point and Group H seems nicely poised. Japan are top but could end up missing out if they lose to Poland and Colombia v Senegal ends in a draw.

*Unintentional comedy co-commentary of the weekend: Phil Neville laying into Wabhi Khazri for “going missing here just like he did at Sunderland” about a minute before Khazri scored. Neville minor does not seem to be having an especially good World Cup.

*When the England squad was announced I suggested this was the closest we will ever come to a real life version of the Non-C##ts invented by John Nicholson and Alan Tyers (admittedly I’d forgotten Jamie Vardy was in the squad, but still). They may not win anything but they have at least played enjoyable football. The only fly in the ointment of the game against Panama was that the TV coverage after two goals showed the England Supporters Band celebrating.

*Writing before I’ve seen his article this week but John Nicholson has been saying for a while that Sunday Supplement’s main purpose is to show how far out of touch a lot of the self-proclaimed big beasts of football writing are with fans. It’s nothing new to say that newspapers are toxic, but it was tragic that the defence for publishing the long lens shots of a notepad dressed up as a “gaffe” were that if the journalists didn’t report them, their editors would fire them. However, any sympathy for them was quickly eroded with how precious they all got that anyone should question what they were doing.

Similarly, their reaction to Gareth Southgate’s suggestion that the media could either help the England team or hinder them was to all say “oh, so we’re meant to simply be cheerleaders now are we”. The clear answer to this is “obviously not, stop being difficult, you’re doing that typical tabloid thing of inventing a story where there is none”. They need to remember the old adage about reporters not becoming the story, even though it’s becoming incredibly clear that so many of them are desperate for a moment in the spotlight, he said with no sense of self-awareness.
Ed Quoththeraven


The real headline
Can’t believe our Young Jack has a girlfriend.

They grow up so fast.
Conor, Drogheda

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