England 0 – 1 Belgium
So it was defeat for England in their final Group G game against Belgium and now a clash with Columbia awaits in the last 16 but that was the outcome we all wanted – wasn’t it?
The Kaliningrad Stadium played host to its fourth and final fixture of this summer’s tournament on Thursday night and it was packed to the rafters for only the second time. Spain and Morocco had filled the stadium three days previously, but the brand-new quarter-of-a-billion-euro stadium was really pumping before kick-off for the final game in the city. The Hisense’s HDR and wide colour gamut really came into its own here, the crowd was vibrant and detailed as the teams made their way onto the pitch. Southgate and Martinez may have sent out second string teams but there was nothing second string about the atmosphere as the national anthems kicked-off the on-field action.
It was a bitter-sweet result for the Three Lions in the end that left most fans scratching their heads. Have Belgium done us a favour there? Did we secretly want to finish second in Group G for an ‘easier’ run-in? And are we allowed to celebrate a defeat? The game had a strange atmosphere and the fact Belgium fans were cheering yellow cards to take them below England in the group standings showed their stance on the qualification scenario. It’s a shame that what looked like such a huge spectacle pre-tournament became what was effectively a reserve game where both sides had it in the back of their minds that loss might be an all-together better result. Seventeen changes were made between the two teams’ starting XIs.
The game itself allowed Gareth Southgate to give his unused squad players a taste of the action whilst resting his key men for the next round. Although the England ‘reserves’ looked competent and tidy on the ball, they were largely uninspired in attack and lacked creativity. The Three Lions had very few real chances to score, the best falling to Marcus Rashford just after an hour, and Belgium were comfortable for long periods in the game. Adnan Januzaj’s curling winner was the only moment of real quality in an otherwise dull encounter. I could see every inch of the ball’s flight as it rose over Pickford’s outreached left arm to dip agonisingly below the crossbar. The powerful motion sensing technology meant the venomous snap shot was traced perfectly from boot to back of the net.
Southgate will no doubt be pleased his second-string side gave a good account of themselves. That being said, few did enough to earn a starting place against Columbia next Tuesday. Ruben Loftus-Cheek was again impressive on the ball in spells but lacked the punch of his last two appearances, whilst Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford were unable to make their mark up front. One positive, however, was Trent Alexander-Arnold, who continues to display maturity beyond his 19 years. The young full-back again showed he has the temperament for the big games and Southgate will have no issues throwing him into the fold should England progress in the tournament.
The more organised England fans will have consulted their wall charts and told you that this result is a blessing in disguise and a fantastic opportunity. A victory over Columbia, which granted may be a marginally harder tie than Japan, means just Switzerland or Sweden stand between England and the FIFA World Cup™ semi-final. But is it arrogance to look at your possible run-in past the Round of 16?
The reality of this result against Belgium will only set in after Tuesday’s game in Moscow. If a fully restored England side can beat Columbia and progress to the quarter-finals, then it will be no harm done and Southgate will be lauded for his team selection. A defeat however and fingers will point to this defeat against Belgium as the night when crucial momentum was lost.
The Armchair Reporter is tuning into the tournament with the Official TV of the FIFA World Cup™, the Hisense U7A 4K ULED TV. Specifically designed to offer the greatest possible sporting experience, there’s no better way to experience every moment of the beautiful game’s showpiece event, short of travelling to Russia!
Hisense UK Armchair Reporter