It looks likely England losing to Belgium will give them a much easier path to the final
After staring at World Cup schedule for a long time, I can confirm that football is indeed coming home...
In recent World Cups, the reigning champions have often had bitterly disappointing campaigns. In 2002, France didn't make it out of the group after winning the tournament on home soil in 1992. In 2010, Italy suffered the same fate after winning being crowned world champions in 2006. In 2014, the same thing happened to Spain.
It's not clear why, maybe it's a psychological hangover, maybe it's complacency, assuming that the same tactic will work just as it did four years prior. Whatever it is, it looks like it might be happening again after Germany lost their opening group game to Mexico, who cut them open again and again on the break.
This is excellent news for England, as it could create a much 'easier' path towards the latter stages of the tournament. Obviously, it depends on certain matches ending with certain results. Weirdly, it could depend on England losing, or at most drawing against Belgium in the final group game.
Before the World Cup started, everyone expected both Brazil and Germany to top their groups. Looking at who England could come up against in the knockout rounds, it seemed inevitable that they would meet at least one of these sides. However, Germany's poor start to the tournament could mean England avoid them both.
Assuming England beat Panama on Sunday afternoon, both them and Belgium will head into the third round of games on six points. The winner of England's group (Group G) will play the runner-up in Group H in the Round of 16 and vice versa. Group H stands out as one of the most open, fairly balanced groups in the tournament, but going by the first round of games, Senegal look the strongest. Colombia may have lost but their star quality should see them through the group ahead of Poland and Japan.
So, if we accept that Colombia and Senegal are of similar quality, and not care too much about which team England come up against in the round of 16, it could actually be better in the long run for England to come second in their group instead of topping it.
A second place finish for England would see them play the Group H winners, and the winner of that game would come up against the winner of the Round of 16 tie between the winner of Group F and the runners-up from Group E. Those teams are likely to be Mexico and Switzerland. Mexico are in excellent form and have looked strong enough that you would back them to beat Switzerland, although that's by no means a foregone conclusion.
Either way, a quarter-final against Mexico or Switzerland would present England with a great opportunity to reach their first semi-final since 1990.
The most likely semi-finalist for England would be Spain or Portugal, depending which of them tops their group - which could come down to who beats their opponents by more goals in their final round of games.
Both Spain and Portugal would be very tough opponents for England. Both have won trophies in recent years, both have top-level players and a coherent game plan. But anything can happen.
On the other side of the draw, the teams most likely to end up in the final are Uruguay, France, Brazil and Germany.