England fans didn’t travel all the way to Russia to settle for second place – or did they? Gareth Southgate’s side ended as runners-up in Group G behind Belgium with a final tally of two wins and one defeat.
It was a very winnable pool, with the Three Lions holding all the aces in the head-to-head stats over Belgium, but a final match defeat at the hands of the Red Devils handed Belgium the prize. England progressed to the knock-out stage and appear to have been dropped into the better half of the draw thanks to that hypothetical silver medal.
Belgium picked up what was only their second win in 21 meetings with England when battling to a 1-0 at the Kaliningrad Stadium on June 28th. Both managers rotated their squads, with Southgate giving the tournament’s leading scorer Harry Kane the night off in what was the most notable of eight changes to the team that hammered Panama 6-1.
Manchester United goal machine Romelu Lukaku was also given an easy time of it, with Belgian boss Roberto Martinez leaving his attacker on the sidelines for the entire match. What fans had hoped would be a shoot-out for top spot in the group and a goal-fest from Kane and Lukaku turned out to be little more than a kick around in the sun with both nations doing little more than going through the motions, knowing they had already secured qualification.
Defeat is never easy to take at any level of football, but fans got over their frustrations when learning the route to the final wasn’t as difficult as it could’ve been. For one, they had avoided the mighty Brazil, who couldn’t play England until the final, if both made it that far.
England pulled Colombia from the hat at the round-of-16 stage – an opponent they have faced only five times before in recorded competitive action and never lost to. The first came way back in 1970 when England ran riot in a 4-0 win. The rivals then played out a couple of draws, 1-1 in 1988 and 0-0 1995, before a memorable 2-0 triumph at France 98 and thrilling 3-2 friendly win in 2005.
Michael Owen grabbed a stunning hat-trick at the Giants Stadium in New Jersey on that occasion and that was enough to better goals from Mario Alberto Yepes and Aldo Ramirez. British football fans will hope Harry Kane can replicate what Owen did all those years ago and the Spurs striker has already helped himself to a treble at this competition.
Beat Columbia and England will then face the winner of Sweden or Switzerland. Get through that and they’ll line-up against Spain, Russia, Croatia or Denmark for a place in the final at Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday 15thJuly. No wonder fans are getting excited and bookmakers are shortening the odds of a first triumph since 1966. Traders at bet365 have England priced 15/2 to go all the way in their World Cup betting. That’ll attract a fair share of attention.
After three group matches, bookies had Harry Kane as the favourite to win the golden boot. The Londoner rattled in five goals in two matches – Tunisia x2 and Panama x3 – and that had him ahead of the likes of Ronaldo and Lukaku.