Millennium Post

England, Belgium face off in a game neither may really want to win

With top spot in group G on the line, a bizarre situation has arisen in which neither Belgium or England may want to actually win their final game and therefore top the group.

Here's the situation:

England and Belgium are locked together with two wins apiece at the top of Group G heading into their final encounter on Friday morning (AEST).

Conventional wisdom would suggest that winning the group should provide the "easiest" possible passage to the latter stages of the tournament.

At this World Cup though, conventional wisdom has been turned on its head. With a clear disparity in strength between teams on opposite sides of the draw, winning the group might not be all it's cracked up to be.

The path to the final for the team that wins Group G looks like this:

Round of 16: Colombia, Japan or Senegal.

Quarter-finals: Mexico or Brazil.

Semi-finals: Uruguay, Portugal, France or Argentina.

A daunting prospect, particularly owing to a potential quarter-final match-up with either five-time champions Brazil or perennial under-achievers Mexico.

By finishing runner-up, the route — on paper at least — looks a lot more manageable.

Round of 16: Colombia, Japan or Senegal.

Quarter-finals: Sweden or Switzerland.

Semi-finals: Spain, Russia, Croatia or Denmark.

Additionally, the team that finishes runner-up will have an extra 24 hours to prepare for its next match — a key factor to consider midway through a lengthy tournament that offers little time off between games. With an "easier" path ahead of the team that finishes second, there will surely be a temptation to engineer a favourable result with the bigger picture in mind.

With both teams safely through to the knockout stages, each coach has suggested they will make changes — as many as 10 have been mooted for Belgium whilst Gareth Southgate will also shuffle his English pack in Kaliningrad.

For Belgium coach Roberto Martinez, at least one of those changes will be enforced after top-scorer Romelu Lukaku suffered a minor ankle injury, with disciplinary factors also coming into effect with key players Jan Vertonghen and Kevin de Bruyne both sitting precariously on one yellow card.

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