With England and Belgium already qualified ahead of tonight’s ‘dead rubber’ clash in Kaliningrad attention has turned to the virtues of second place in the group, which on paper maps an easier route to the World Cup final.
As Robbie Savage pointed out on Twitter “surely coming 2nd is far better” for England, allowing them to swerve Colombia, France and Portugal among other potential opponents.
It would pave the way to an England vs Brazil final that, according to Goldman Sachs forecasts, is the most likely outcome as things stand.
But the simple-mindedness of playing to lose is an idea that is exceeded only by its crass banality.
For a start, the winners of a group are afforded an easier route into the next round by design. Regardless of how countries have performed historically, if they have failed to show up at this tournament then they are a weaker opponent on paper.
Germany crashed out of the tournament last night and Brazil have been less than convincing so far, drawing their opening game and putting in lukewarm performances against Costa Rica and Serbia.
The strongest teams are the ones who win, which brings us to the next point.
Maintaining a winning mentality in a knock-out tournament is perhaps the single most important factor for success.
As Gary Lineker pointed out, “England haven’t won a knockout game at a major tournament for 12 years and we’re discussing playing to lose to avoid a more difficult quarter final”. It makes no sense.
If England lose against Belgium and then go on to lose in the last 16 we will have simply beaten two mediocre footballing nations, and you’ll see how quickly the press turns then.
Better to maintain our winning run tonight and go into the knockout stages with our heads held high, regardless of which opponents that may throw up.
Tonight is a win-win game, and approaching it with a defeatist attitude is perhaps the most nonsensical thing we could ever do.