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06 / 29

Hoops in Russia: England vs. Belgium

WRITTEN BY: Griffin Wasik
PUBLISHED ON: June 29, 2018

KALININGRAD, Russia – Last night, Belgium won Group G at the World Cup after defeating England 1-0.

Adnan Januzaj, the former Manchester United and current Real Sociedad winger, cut inside and had a superb strike into the back of the net.

However, the elephant in the stadium was whether or not both managers actually wanted to win this match. As odd as it may sound, fans across the world hoped their team lost because of the way the bracket lined up.

With this being the final group stage match, the knockout round was already set. The winner of the group would be placed in an arguably tougher side, whereas, the runner-up would be placed with an easier path to the final.

Win the group and you have the likes of Uruguay, Portugal, France, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Japan on your side of the bracket, while the loser faces Colombia and then the winner of Sweden-Switzerland.

As a result, there was talk all week about how both sides would line-up. Would players with yellow cards be risked? How about players who are a little banged up, would they receive a rest?

Before kickoff, Belgian manager Roberto Martinez said, “We want to perform well but the priority is not to win.”

I’m sorry what? This is the World Cup, I don’t care if there is an easy path to the final or not, you should play every game to win.

I could understand if this was a friendly and you were still trying to figure out who plays best with each other, but this is the biggest soccer tournament in the world. Play to win.

The way each team lined-up, you could tell what both managers were trying to do.

England sat star players: Kyle Walker, Jesse Lingard, Jordan Henderson, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and more members of its starting XI.

Belgium rested key men: Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and others.

I completely get not using players like De Bruyne and Walker, both players were sitting on yellow cards. If they picked up another caution, they would have been suspended for their Round of 16 matches. Playing them simply did not make any sense as both teams had already qualified for the next round.

However, I think you should line-up the big boys and let them play.

As a result, the atmosphere in the stadium wasn’t the same. Both fan bases knew what their teams were trying to do. In fact, at halftime, fans whistled and booed the teams off the pitch.

Nonetheless, Kaliningrad was still rocking. The English were the English, loud, drunk, singing and chanting. The Belgians were quieter, but in the 51st minute, after the goal, they let the Brits have it (video below was recorded outside of the stadium before the match). 

I think in order to make sure instances like this don’t happen again, FIFA should change the format.

In the UEFA Champions League, teams that win their group are in one pot, while runner-ups are in another. A team that finished first can not play another winner in the first round of the knockout stage, they are matched with a runner-up.

This is done by a random draw after all of the group stage matches are completed.

I think if FIFA moved to that format in the World Cup, you would limit teams from doing what happened in the England-Belgium match.  

After the Round of 16, you could then set up a more “traditional” bracket.

It’s not like ticket sales for teams in the knockout rounds would decrease, either. Even with the current format, fans still have to buy tickets to see their team days before the match. 

Even though it was realistically “B” team vs. “B” team, it was still a blast. I love seeing the passion, talking with the fans and being apart of such a global event.

I’m excited to watch Russia vs. Spain in Moscow, now that will be a riot!