- England to face Belgium once again in this World Cup in third place decider.
- They fielded second team for Group League match to test bench and avoid suspension, injury and allegedly tougher knock-out stage opponents.
- Belgium beat England 1-0 in that match, after a dull first half.
England will face Belgium for second time in the World Cup 2018, within two weeks. The earlier match was one of the concluding matches of Group G; before that match started, all 16 of Round of 16 teams were decided. The match was supposed to decide the Group winner, and as per World Cup knock-out line up, they would have very different knock-out schedule. As the other 14 teams were placed in the ’round of 16′ schedule, the members from Group G had advantage over others to strategies and play accordingly in their last group league match.
Simultaneous concluding group league matches were started from 1986 World Cup, after “Disgrace at Gijon” in 1982 World Cup involving West Germany, Austria and Algeria. Intention of FIFA here, was to treat the participating teams fairly so that none of the teams could take advantage of known circumstances.
England and Belgium, both already into Round of 16, were playing to win the group. But there was hitch, the winner of the group had to play Brazil in Quarterfinal and one of France/Argentina/Uruguay/Portugal in Semi Final. At the opposite end the competition was considered to be easier as the route to semi-final was not comprising of Heavy Weights barring Spain.
The rest is history, I do not want to repeat the story which everybody knows. But, does FIFA need to consider this situation while deciding sequence of Group league matches? There were only two groups(A and G) where we had this situation, where two of the group winners (who are qualifying to Round of 16) were already decided before teams play their last group matches . The only consequence that the match would have, is their relative ranking within the group and hence, their respective knock-out schedule. Group-D and Group-F had very interesting situation, where all four of the teams, had realistic chances to qualify in next round as per results of the last group league matches.
Considering the significance of concluding matches if Group A teams were to play those matches at the end, when the play off is decided, they could have the same advantage. Oscar Tabarez and Uruguay would have chance to decide whether to face Portugal or Spain in ’round of 16′ and then not so heavy weight teams till the Final. The same holds true for Russia. Russia was already ahead of Uruguay in goal difference after teams of Group-A played two matches each. A draw in Uruguay vs Russia match, would mean Uruguay getting a easier draw. Uruguay risked cards and injuries to play its first team and won last group-league match 3-0 and eventually lost service of their most prolific scorer in quarter-final due to an injury in subsequent round of 16 match.
Since the entire schedule of group and knock-out stage matches were already decided from the very beginning, it is perhaps not very easy to adjust last group league matches, as per the group positioning and uncertainties. But the intention of FIFA to provide every team a fair chance, was compromised here. As some of the teams who have already qualified to next round of World cup, would be in advantageous position to benefit from such situation.
Belgium vs England match like the previous one, has little consequence, as they both are not in title fray now. Whoever wins on Saturday will be considered third place winner for this edition of World Cup. Hope they will go all out and offer their fans an enjoyable football!!!