Gary Lineker responds to claim England would be better off losing to Belgium
Has it really been that long?
June 25, 2006 at the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion, in Stuttgart, and David Beckham scored in the 60th minute to give England a 1-0 win over Ecuador.
The likes of Hernan Crespo, Zinedine Zidane, Andrei Shevchenko and Brazil's Ronaldo all scored in the second round of the World Cup, just like Beckham. England would go on to face Portugal next, with Wayne Rooney getting sent off and Cristiano Ronaldo bidding adieu with a wide grin on his face.
Seven Goran Eriksson's side would lose 3-1 on penalties. Beating Ecuador in the previous round was the false dawn but it was also the last time England won a knock-out game at a major tournament.
This year, in Russia, Gareth Southgate's side are assured of a place in the knock-out stages. They secured their last 16 spot by edging past Tunisia and walloping Panama. There they will face either Senegal, Japan or Colombia, from Group H, but there is an argument doing the rounds that England would be better off finishing their own group (G) as runners up.
Few English fans would quake at whatever of that Group H trio they draw but, given some of the tournament surprises already, the bottom half of the draw looks to be the safer route to that July 15 final in Moscow. Here are the teams in the top half of the draw:
And these teams would be in England's way should they finish as Group G runners up:
Spain and Croatia are no chumps and Russia could get more and more.... energy as the knock-out stages progress, but certainly less reasons to be fearful.
It is no surprising to see some fans, and news outlets such as BBC, USA Today, The Express, Deadspin and New Zealand Herald, mull the notion that England may be better off losing their final group game to Belgium.
It's no crime to think such a way but steer clear of Gary Lineker if you want to openly discuss the topic.
England haven’t won a knockout game at a major tournament for 12 years and we’re discussing playing to lose to avoid a more difficult quarter final. Do me a favour. 🙈
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 28, 2018
Lineker does have a good point. Southgate's men have two wins on the trot after a decent lead-in to the tournament.
Maintaining momentum and buoying the mood of the camp, and that of a hopeful nation, can be achieved by seeing off a Belgium side expected to rest a few key players.
Despite those ominous-sounding nations that lie in the top half of the tournament, only Brazil can claim to have truly impressed in the group stages. Mexico have looked good, in flitters, while France have looked solid if unspectacular.
The form team of the tournament, so far, is Croatia and they are in the bottom half of the draw.
Lineker has enough tournament experience to know how winning breeds confidence and momentum. His words are definitely worth heeding.