The group stages of the World Cup are now completed and the final round of games provided plenty of talking points.
Colombia and Japan clinched the top two spots in Group H to secure their places in the last 16, but it’s fair to say that most eyes were on Thursday evening’s Group G clash between Belgium and England.
Adnan Januzaj took advantage of lazy defending by Danny Rose to score the only goal of the game to ensure Belgium won the group, although the result has placed them in what looks to be the more difficult half of the draw in the knockout stage.
A draw of two halves?
Belgium’s 1-0 victory over England added another fancied team to the top half of the draw in the last 16 of the World Cup.
Roberto Martinez’s side should beat Japan in the next round, but topping Group G means they are likely to face Brazil in the quarter-finals if they do progress.
The Samba Kings will be expected to see off Mexico, but the France vs Argentina and Uruguay vs Portugal ties look too close too call.
The lower half of the draw appears to have handed Spain and Croatia a smooth passage to the last eight, with the pair expected to defeat Russia and Denmark respectively.
Sweden and England should be capable of beating Switzerland and Colombia, leaving both teams eyeing a place in the last four.
Belgium bag tougher route
There was plenty of talk before Belgium’s game against England that neither team wanted to win in order to secure an “easier” route to the later stages of the World Cup.
Both sides made numerous changes to the starting line-ups, but neither could be accused of not trying to win the game.
Januzaj’s superb second-half goal proved to be the decider, handing Belgium a possible last eight meeting with Brazil.
Martinez appeared untroubled after the game that his team could face the five-time winners in the quarter-finals.
“You cannot plan the ideal scenario,” he said.
“You’ve seen big nations already eliminated. We need to look at ourselves, we are a stronger group than we were before the game.
“We’re facing Japan, we’ve got to be ready for it.”
No excuses now for England
England’s defeat handed them the draw many fans craved, but it would be dangerous to underestimate the task they face in the knockout stage.
Colombia are dangerous opponents in the last 16, while Sweden and Switzerland are the sort of teams the Three Lions have had problems against in previous tournaments.
Manager Gareth Southgate had insisted before the Belgium game that his team would be going all out to win, but he will surely be content to have been handed a glorious chance to reach the last four.
Southgate said: “I think it was a pretty even game. They had better controlled possession and the best chances in the first-half.
“We had some good ones in the second-half. It was a good test for us. It didn’t happen for Marcus Rashford tonight, but we don’t suffer for it.
“We want to win football matches, so we’re not happy to come away being beaten.
“This was a game we wanted to win, but the knockout game is the biggest game for a decade so needed to make sure our key players were reserved.
“The players tonight gave everything. We have seen the level everyone has been playing at, we need to keep improving.
“We kept pressing until the end. I think the supporters understand what the most important thing is.”
James set to sit down for Colombia
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman has an injury worry over James Rodriguez after he limped off during their win over Senegal.
Rodriguez was substituted after 31 minutes of the 1-0 victory and his possible absence from next Tuesday’s game against England would be a massive blow for Colombia.
“I’m extremely concerned, it’s a very tough situation for my team,” said Pekerman.
“I didn’t want to talk about this in a conference, because it risks overshadowing everything else that’s happened. But I can say it’s not a comfortable situation for us.
“At the moment we don’t have information, I can’t confirm or deny.
“He trained normally until yesterday as always – he stayed on afterwards to practise free kicks and penalties as he does.
“He was fully fit – but right now I don’t know where he stands. We do hope we’ll hear good news once he’s gone for his check-up.”
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