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Did England just misunderstand the draw?



And so on to Moscow. In a submissive, somewhat strange night in Kaliningrad, England made it to the knockout stages of the World Cup, an event that can be celebrated by itself. If there is regret, it is the nature of their progress that has gone hand in hand with the first small step of a positive and safe European football campaign.

The Kaliningrad Stadium is one of Russia's smaller arenas in 2018, a generic white bowl, like the bathroom suite of an aging, but respectable three-star hotel. At the kick-off, the grandstands were crammed with the usual red and white blocks, the playing surface bathed in a soft, soft evening light.

At this point, in a city that did not actually play in Russia, England and Belgium, a World Cup shootout that was not a shootout and in many ways a mess.

Following a 1

-0 defeat, England will face Colombia at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow. This is an excellent, mouthwatering World Cup tie. It is an undeniable advance after the horror, the stasis, the clogged style of recent tournaments. England has every chance to beat Colombia. After that, this side of the draw would offer some relatively cheap options – as did Spain, the best team so far in Russia.

Nevertheless, there was discomfort. Mainly, that was a disappointment, a slumping of the gas pedal that did not catch up with the good vibes to this day. It was probably a fundamental misreading of the draw.

In the build-up, the idea had prevailed that England would contribute its part to the football equivalent of a slow bicycle race. This was based on the idea that first or second place in Group G did not make a big difference, with Senegal or Colombia probably opponents.

The kick had changed. Japan was now the first and Colombia the second. There was a significant difference here. Join the group and play Japan; or come second and play Colombia, followed by a hypothetically easier team in this half of the draw.

England lost to a strong, skilled Japanese team pretty easily. But the fact is that Japan is six places below Panama from Fifa and is only in good shape at this stage, while Colombia is number 16 in the world and reached the quarter-finals four years ago. Nevertheless, England has still made eight changes – to Belgium's nine – and in the process, life was sucking out of their starting eleven. From England's field 10 were only three regular players in their Premier League teams. No matter how you turn it, it was a scratch team.

It is hardly moralizing to propose so many changes on both sides, which is also a bit for the robustness of the tournament. Undoubtedly it was also a disappointment for some of those who traveled all the way. When tickets and hotels are booked, supporters squandering their vacation money will imagine they might be able to see Harry Kane.

How do you explain so many changes? There is an understandable urge to make all members of the team happy. On the other hand, this is not a funny or a game where everyone can try something. It is, to be very clear, the real World Cup.

Southgate has had its own unfortunate experience of not playing a minute in a tournament. What the only serious answer is: who cares? This is not a therapy session. But Dr. Freud is not present under England's mobile staff. Do it differently. Make it more beautiful. But personal scars, bruises of the past, have nothing to do with it.

England had its moments in Kaliningrad. Eric Dier made some nice passes from his pivotal role behind the full-backs. Ruben Loftus-Cheek gave the attentive Marouane Fellaini a knee in the thigh, paying homage to a good start. But Belgium's smoother second XI earned their profit, earned by Adnan Januzaj's fine second-half goal.

At the end of that, it's a sign of confusion around this tie that the idea is still out there from a light side's the draw. The same goes for the need to avoid Brazil in a hypothetical quarter-final. The reality is easier. Brazil is always a good game for England. Brazil at the World Cup: This is a wonderful occasion, a career high, the reason why we play and see the game.

And of course, those who have seen Brazil at this tournament will know that there are a few machine issues. Brazilian England might have met some wonderful players in their hypothetical quarter-finals, but they seem far from unbeatable.

For this, England will be optimistic and with every chance to travel to Moscow. It is a concern that they will face Colombia, who are a better team than Japan, and that they go into a knockout competition due to a limp, possibly avoidable defeat.

But Southgate deserves all the grace and luck he gets. Not to mention the possibility that the rotation in Kaliningrad will pay off later. Either way, should England appear on Tuesday as it is possible, these striking, solemn upward moves in the Moscow air will probably now have a little added feeling.

Guardian Services


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