WORLD CUP 2018

England never play to lose: Southgate

Eden Hazard skips past the challenge of team-mate Jan Vertonghen during training. Both players, key to the Belgium side, may be rested in the match against England that will determine who tops the group.
Eden Hazard skips past the challenge of team-mate Jan Vertonghen during training. Both players, key to the Belgium side, may be rested in the match against England that will determine who tops the group.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Three Lions in 'dangerous territory' if they plot to avoid tougher teams in next rounds

KALININGRAD • Gareth Southgate believes that it is not in England's character to lose their World Cup game with Belgium deliberately to secure a perceived easier route to the final.

Trying to plot a path of potential opponents was "dangerous territory", the England manager said as he vowed to try to win tomorrow's Group G game in Kaliningrad.

His pledge came as it emerged that Belgium coach Roberto Martinez may make as many as 10 changes to his team, with Premier League stars such as Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Jan Vertonghen unlikely to start the game between two sides who have already qualified.

Finishing second is being viewed as preferable to winning because of the likely opposition in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. The sides are level on points, goal difference and goals scored in Group G.

England are top by virtue of Fifa's fair play system - they have had two cautions to Belgium's three, which means that if the match is drawn without any further cards shown then they would go through as group winners.

That would result in a possible quarter-final against Brazil or Germany, assuming that they win a last-16 tie against the runner-up from Group H.

Some pundits have suggested England should collect bookings on purpose if the match is heading for a draw to finish second. However, Fifa insiders say they would take a tough line on any such unsporting behaviour and impose additional bans to any player who sought a deliberate yellow card.

Fifa's threat is not an empty one. Greece defender Kostas Manolas, was banned for picking up a booking in September to miss the last World Cup qualifying group game and ensure that he was available for the play-offs.

Fifa's disciplinary committee banned him for an extra game so that he missed the final qualifier and the first leg of the play-off against Croatia.

Southgate insists that England will not become embroiled in subterfuge. "For our country, that would be a very difficult mindset to have," he said. "We want to win every game of football we go into. I don't know how we would go into a game not wanting to win and not wanting to play well.

"I think that's dangerous territory if we start trying to plot and predict where we might end up. We had a really favourable draw, we all thought, in the last tournament (against Iceland at Euro 2016) and it didn't work out that way.

"I think we just have to keep preparing the team the right way, keep the momentum and I have to keep the squad involved. That's the one thing I think is really important."

Southgate has a dilemma over whether to start Harry Kane, who is leading the race for the Golden Boot award for the tournament's top scorer with five goals.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2018, with the headline 'England never play to lose: Southgate'. Print Edition | Subscribe