As a manger, you have to make certain decisions, and Gareth Southgate probably looked at the Belgium game and thought, ‘Whether we win or lose it doesn’t really matter because we’d fancy ourselves against any of the teams we might get.’
The match allowed some of the other players to get some game-time, which is always important. People underestimate how vital that is. Players want to get on the pitch to sample the World Cup atmosphere. This was a prime opportunity for Gareth Southgate to give them that chance while also resting some other key players – even Roberto Martinez did the same thing.
Now Southgate knows he can bring these players into the starting lineup if he needs to. They’re not going into the game cold.
That said, if you told me England would have needed to win the game to avoid Brazil, then I’d be playing my strongest team. However, in this case we may end up benefiting from finishing second – so long as we go on and beat Colombia. Some have said we’ve lost momentum, but I don’t buy that. Leaving everything else aside, if we meet them again down the line, Southgate hasn’t shown his hand.
It’s about knockout football now and if we beat Colombia it’ll be seen as a stroke of genius. If they don’t – well, we know what will happen. As a manager you have to stand by your decisions; you’re aware that if things don’t go to plan it will be all over the press. They’ll ask why he didn’t play England’s strongest team against Belgium. The pressure will be on.
Against Colombia, it won’t be easy. You can never expect a comfortable win in the World Cup – the so-called lesser teams are putting up a fight, very few are getting turned over easily apart from Panama and, at the start, Saudi Arabia.
But Colombia may be missing James Rodriguez, which is a big blow for them. They’ve got Falcao up top, who’s always likely to score goals, but based on what I’ve seen from them so far, I believe England will be too strong for them. I’m not saying it will be a walkover, but I expect Southgate’s team to progress.
As for England, that Belgium game was a chance for players to catch their manager’s eye, but there weren’t many who did that. Danny Rose did well at times, and Marcus Rashford stepped up a gear in the second half despite missing a chance or two. He looked like he was trying to really make a case for a starting berth.
When you consider that Raheem Sterling hasn’t looked great up to this point in the tournament, even though he’s arguably our most dangerous player, he is perhaps one that could miss out in favour of Rashford.
But apart from that possibility and maybe Rose for Young, I can’t see much changing.