By 90Min
June 29, 2018

It was a fascinating scenario to find myself in following a defeat; being part of the happier set of supporters.


“(Adnan) Januzaj is a d***head” bellowing from portions of the travelling Red Devils contingent on the streets of Kaliningrad as their potential future fate against the likes of Brazil, France, Argentina and Uruguay – to name just four – was sealed.

Roberto Martinez, reportedly, seemed keen on missing out on top spot to set up an ‘easier’ route to the final, with second place appearing to offer a more favourable path to Luzhniki Stadium on July 15.

Jean Catuffe/GettyImages

However, as a Belgian fan claimed in the immediate aftermath of what was the epitome of a dead rubber, arguably looking for positives ahead of what will now be an extremely tough selection of games: “To win the World Cup, you have to beat the best.”

Whether that turns out to be true, as was the case with Portugal – who failed to claim a victory in regulation time at the European Championships two years ago – remains to be seen, although the Red Devils certainly have no other option but to now abide by that philosophy.

England, on the other hand, could avoid coming up against a true international footballing powerhouse until the semi finals following the defeat.

Colombia in the last 16, Sweden or Switzerland await the winners, and Spain, Denmark, Croatia or Russia, one of which will advance to the final four, is all that stands in the Three Lions’ way between their first World Cup final in 52 years.

On Thursday’s display alone, that tally will stretch again until Qatar 2022, but, in truth, the overall performance had very little relevance in terms of Gareth Southgate’s bigger picture. Neither side seemed keen on expressing themselves to their full potential.

However, should all concerns raised from England’s lacklustre performance be disregarded?

The Three Lions boss would be naive to overlook Jordan Pickford’s goalkeeping error which allowed Januzaj to find the top corner or the lack of aerial threat his side possessed without Kieran Trippier’s set-piece delivery.

Arguably, the overall bluntness of his forward line while Harry Kane watched on from the sidelines, particularly Jamie Vardy’s complete ineffectiveness, again should not solely be placed under the lack of meaning to the contest.

And while the likes of Fabian Delph and Eric Dier had moments, their inclusions only highlighted the importance of Jordan Henderson in England’s strongest XI.

It is hard, however, to be too critical of England’s performance against Belgium. As already mentioned, the defeat may turn out to be a pivotal aspect of any success this summer.

Ian MacNicol/GettyImages

However, if the Three Lions head into the last 16 showdown against Colombia in Moscow on Tuesday with a mindset similar to that of Kaliningrad, rather than the opening 45 minutes against both Tunisia and Panama, they will once again be bowing out of a major tournament having not achieved their full potential. 

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