Ok, so at this stage everyone knows it’s definitely coming home and all that, but this doesn’t mean England shouldn’t try to make things even easier for themselves.
With that in mind, Gareth Southgate and the lads would be absolutely mad not to do everything in their power to finish as runner-up in Group G. If they do, they’ll avoid the side of the draw containing teams who, let’s be honest, are much better than them – top the group and you’re in with the likes of Brazil, France, Portugal, Uruguay and Argentina. Come second and your route to the final looks significantly less intimidating.
So use your brain, Gaz. There’s no room for ‘honour’ here – England should be going into the Belgium match with every intent of not emerging victorious. Here’s how they can do it.
Play Harry Maguire in nets
To be fair, this one could backfire horribly – you wouldn’t put it past the big man to turn in a blinding performance between the sticks. With a head that vast and a heart even vaster, there’s every chance Harry could be the next Peter Shilton. He’s clearly a better option than Joe Hart, anyway.
But it’s worth the risk. At the end of the day, he’s still an outfield player. Even with Belgium’s second string doing their best to miss every chance that comes their way, you’d have to think that Big Mag wouldn’t fare particularly well with any shots the Diables Rouges might accidentally get on target.
There’s also the added bonus of needing to replace Maguire at the back. Which leads us nicely on to the next option…
Play Phil Jones in literally any other position, because he’s crap
Just get him on the pitch, Gareth.
If anyone can make this happen, it’s Phil. He’s got the lot: the first touch of a newborn llama trying to trap a beach ball, the poise and balance of an angry goat in Bouncy Castle World and the passing range of a Nissan Micra.
You wouldn’t even need to let him in on the plan. Simply allow the man to do what he does best and watch the Belgian goals roll in.
If England don't really fancy winning tonight's game well then there's only one man they need to look to start… pic.twitter.com/cltOhfk6L0
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) June 28, 2018
Slip the starting XI a Mickey Finn
Back at Italia 1990, Argentina pulled off a masterstroke against Brazil by lacing several pitchside water-bottles with tranquilisers and handing them out to their opponents. Some would see that as nefarious and despicable, but… well, actually, it really is. Still, at least they somehow managed to prevent Maradona from hungrily downing the lot.
There’s something Southgate and his management team can learn from this. If the eleven Lions on the pitch are strolling around in a drug-induced haze and finding it hard to ignore the purple unicorns they see buzzing around their heads, they’re hardly going to be able to focus on playing football.
Turn the match into a penalty-fest
At this stage, we know VAR doesn’t miss much. So why not turn that to England’s advantage?
The idea is simple: just start rugby-tackling people in your own penalty box. This would be particularly effective from corner kicks and free kicks, and may also have the added benefit of racking up the cards.
If the referee and the lads in the VAR room are bad enough to miss this extra bit of set-piece chicanery, England may need to branch out and drop in a few scything last-man challenges, or perhaps the occasional flying elbow. If all else fails, a straightforward deliberate handball in their own six-yard-box should suffice.
Just literally bang in loads of own goals
Ok, this one’s a last resort. If Harry Maguire hasn’t chucked one in; if Phil hasn’t gifted a Belgian forward with an open goal from a mishit clearance; if the boys have powered through the Mickey Finn; if VAR lets everything go, then the only thing for it is for England to start booting the ball into their own net.
You can try to be subtle about it – but let’s not mess around here, this is England’s World Cup we’re talking about. If it comes down to it, they need to do what needs to be done. If it takes Jordan Henderson stepping up as captain and scorching one past his own keeper from ten yards, then that’s what it takes. There’s no room for pissing about – stick the bloody thing in the onion sack.