Striker set to sit out England v Belgium clash

England celebrate their goal- England will want to continue their success but how will their group finish affect their route to the final

England will want to continue their success but how will their group finish affect their route to the final? Credit Getty Images

With England's fans now nearly expecting a deep run in the knockout stages, a second round loss would leave them empty and the narrative could quickly turn against coach Gareth Southgate for his negative approach against Belgium.

Losing to Belgium on objective would set a bad precedent, so it's vital that England's players head into the game wanting to win.

Top of the group, above Belgium, or second, behind Roberto Martinez's team?

Now that England have finished second in their group, they will take on José Pékerman's Colombian side without 2014's Golden Boot victor, James Rodriguez, who limped off against Senegal earlier today.

Unlike Southgate, the former Everton and Wigan manager said he was approaching Thursday´s game with one eye firmly on the knockout rounds.

Martinez has already floated the idea of wholesale changes against England, in a game where he claims victory is not a "priority" for his side.

They faced each other Thursday and Belgium won 1-0 but we are none the wiser.

Southgate acknowledges there is a balance to be struck between keeping his side fresh and injury-free and maintaining the momentum they have gained, particularly from the 6-1 crushing of Panama. I don't think it would be professional of us to put those players at a risk of missing the knockout phase.

With their all-time rivals Germany already crashed out of the World Cup, a victory will ensure that England tops their group for the first time since 2006.

But the path to the quarter-final could see a match against Germany or Brazil for the victor - a question which will be determined before England and Belgium clash in Kaliningrad.

The scenario remains as many had predicted, but when the two sides meet at Kaliningrad Stadium tomorrow morning, the world will be watching for a different reason.

FIFA's Code of Conduct says that a team must always play to win.

"It just shows that any team can be vulnerable", said Southgate, who more than most Englishmen has suffered at the hands of German footballers.

Both Belgium and England should expect to reach the quarterfinals, but don't be all that surprised if one - or both of them - don't.

"We need to look at ourselves, we are a stronger group than we were before the game".

The match was far less dramatic than the day's earlier games, but the outcome still had consequences that could affect both teams as they look to continue their World Cup runs into the knockout round. We're England and we want to win every game possible. "We're always talking to our players about discipline on the pitch, avoiding needless free-kicks".

Facing questions over whether he might have preferred to finish second - a draw or defeat would have had that effect - Martinez said: "Honestly, I am delighted".

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