England will face Colombia in Moscow in the World Cup’s last 16 after Adnan Januzaj’s spectacular strike ensured Belgium finished top of Group G in Kaliningrad.
Manager Gareth Southgate made eight changes from England’s win against Panama while opposite number Martinez made nine alterations of his own – proving victory was not exactly the top priority as the tournament moves towards the knockout phase.
Thanks to everyone for their support tonight – superb yet again. 👏 pic.twitter.com/m6srqgGhBv
— England (@England) June 28, 2018
And it was illustrated by a largely mediocre, lifeless encounter that was settled by former Manchester United attacker Januzaj’s six minutes after the break, cutting inside before curling a left-foot finish high past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
England, who desperately missed absent captain and leading World Cup scorer Harry Kane, barely threatened apart from when Marcus Rashford should have equalised, Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois touching his effort wide after he ran clear.
The build-up to this game was played out in the context of who would top the group – with the suggestion finishing second might provide an easier route than winning Group G.
It was clear three points was hardly the top priority for either Southgate or Belgium counterpart Roberto Martinez and the changes occasionally threatened to reduce the game to a farce, the first half ending in a chorus of jeering.
England now take on the dangerous Colombians, led by striker Radamel Falcao, with the prospect of facing either Sweden or Switzerland if they come through in Moscow.
0 – This is the first time in 15 appearances at the World Cup that England have failed to keep a clean sheet in the first round group stages. Leaked. #ENG #BEL #ENGBEL #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/4abWhBCK5I
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 28, 2018
Only time will tell if England and Southgate will regret not going harder for the greater glory of victory. Colombia will pose a real threat.
Southgate must now reflect on England’s first loss at this World Cup in Russia while he prepares to face the dangerous Colombians in Moscow on Tuesday, while Belgium go to Rostov to play Japan on Monday.