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Why finishing second in Group G behind Belgium could actually be better for England

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England fans are riding the crest of a wave after their national team’s stunning performance against Panama on Sunday afternoon.

Gareth Southgate’s side sealed their place in the 2018 World Cup knockout stages with an emphatic 6-1 demolition of the Central American nation.

Centre-back John Stones netted a first-half brace, Jesse Lingard scored his first World Cup goal for a peach from outside the box, while Harry Kane netted a hat-trick in the rout and now leads the race for the Golden Boot.

England were 5-0 up at half-time after one of their most impressive 45-minute displays at a major tournament in recent memory.

And after beating Tunisia 2-1 last week, the Three Lions know they’ll be in the Round of 16 regardless of their result against Belgium on Thursday night.

"It's strange because I enjoyed the win against Tunisia more - because of the tension and the fact you get over the line," Southgate told reporters following the victory over Panama.

"We probably at times played better the other day but today we were better in front of goal. I know how many people were watching at home on a Sunday afternoon and it's great to give them something to cheer about."

Finishing second in Group G could be better for England

England head into the Belgium match joint-top of Group G alongside their next opponents, on the same points and the same goal difference.

If they draw on Thursday, their respective fair play record will determine which nation will finish first in the group. And if they’re still level after that then lots will be drawn.

But while Southgate will desperate to continue this winning momentum heading into the knockout stages, might it be more beneficial if England finished the group in second place?

The team that finishes first will face off against the runners-up in Group H on July 2 - which could be any one of Japan, Senegal or Colombia.

FBL-WC-2018-MATCH30-ENG-PAN

England's route to the semis could be made easier

They will then face the winners of the Round of 16 match in Samara, which is likely to be either Brazil or Germany.

The team that finished second in Group G, however, will face one of Japan, Senegal or Colombia in Moscow on July 3.

They will then take on either of the winners of Group F or the runners-up of Group E, which is likely to be either Switzerland or Mexico.

On paper, this would represent a far easier route through to the semi-finals. England have a poor record against Germany and Brazil in major tournaments and won’t fancy facing either of them before the semis if they can avoid it.

But as Gary Neville said on ITV on Sunday evening: “I don’t know how you manage a team to defeat.”

Should England deliberately set out to finish second in Group G - or should they try and defeat Belgium? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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Topics:
Football
Gareth Southgate
John Stones
Jesse Lingard
Harry Kane
England Football

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