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28th Jun 2018

Gareth Southgate branded a tactical genius after what he did against Belgium

Is it coming home?

Darragh Murphy

Trailing 1-0 with 10 minutes remaining, Gareth Southgate glanced behind at his substitutes and scanned past Harry Kane before instructing Danny Welbeck to get ready to come on.

If anything let supporters know that Southgate wasn’t overly concerned with finishing top of Group G, that decision was it.

England will be content with second place in their group, meaning they will now face Colombia in the Round of 16.

While a match against Colombia is likely more daunting than the Japan clash to which Group G winners Belgium can look forward, the rewards will be waiting for England if they get past their South American opposition.

Presuming – and it’s a massive presumption – that the Three Lions have what it takes to beat Colombia, they will then have a more straightforward route to the latter stages of the competition as they will avoid the likes of Brazil in the quarter-final, instead facing either Switzerland or Sweden.

Both England and Belgium significantly rotated their sides for Thursday’s group decider, which was won by a moment of brilliance from Adnan Januzaj.

When put to Southgate in his post-match interview that he would have brought on Kane if he really wanted the victory, he said: “Yeah, of course. We feel that that this was a game that we wanted to win but the knockout game is the biggest game for us for decades. We had to make sure that our key players were preserved.”

And while one can’t deny that England continued looking for an opening after Januzaj’s wonder-goal, Southgate didn’t display much urgency in chasing an equaliser.

He will now hope to re-motivate his players for the Colombia challenge, after which a winnable match on paper would be waiting for them.

It might be coming home. It might not. But, one thing’s for certain, Southgate is being branded a tactical genius for what he did on Thursday night in Kaliningrad.