As expected, England playing Belgium proved to be the perfect bout to close out the group stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Thursday.
The match was sealed with a sole goal by the Belgians, elevating them to the group winner position of Group G. The rest of the teams of the same group, Panama and Tunisia, clashed for bragging rights with a 1-2 scoreboard, as their fate of qualifying to the next stage had already gotten the stamp of elimination.
Although the group-winning match pleased with some exciting moments, the general mood was one of patience but also playfulness. The managers of each team decided to bench their stars, as qualification had been already earned by both sides. Conserving a 3-4-2-1 formation which has been typical of Belgium this World Cup, Roberto Martinez started Adnan Januzaj, Marouane Fellaini, and Michy Batshuayi to give them a chance of getting familiarized with the formation and the pressure of having to win a match. He saved Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, and Dries Mertens for their Round of 16 match.
Along the same lines, the English manager, Gareth Southgate, benched the allegedly injured Harry Kane, to give Jamie Vardy a chance to make his mark on the field. The English however, approached the match a little differently than the Belgian side, giving more power to the midfield by stacking five players, and attacking with just two forwards. However creative that may be, The Tree Lions failed to land a goal, and allowed one in the 51st minute, when Adnan Januzaj fooled the English defense to then tastefully net the ball in Jordan Pickford’s goal.
In retrospect, Belgium proved to be a dangerous side for any contender to the title, as they showed maturity even with their stellar roster watching the match from the sidelines. The English, however, need to reconsider the confidence displayed before and after the results obtained in their previous encounters of the group stage. Their hopeful side showed lack of creativity in the front in a competition that requires successful movement and finishing of the ball to win a game.
The result now places Belgium in a position where they have to face Japan on July 2nd, the runner-up of Group H, and England facing the winner of that group, Colombia, on July 3rd. Both teams are by all means favorites to play in the quarterfinals, but judging by the way this World Cup has unfolded, luck has been and could still be with the weaker teams.
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