Former England and Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has urged Gareth Southgate’s men to treat their Group G decider with Belgium on Thursday night as a knock out fixture.
England and Belgium have both qualified for the knock out stages after winning their opening two games of their World Cup campaign, and their meeting in the Kaliningrad Stadium will decide who goes through to the last 16 as group winners.
The Three Lions have a pretty poor record in the knock out stages of major tournaments in recent years, having not won a elimination game since the 2006 World Cup when they defeated Ecuador 1-0.
This is why Carragher see’s the Belgium game as one of the most important in England’s recent history and reckons it is the perfect opportunity to build a winning mentality, as well as a way of sending out a message to other top sides.
“In terms of progression into the knockout stage, England’s meeting with Belgium is meaningless. In terms of determining which side is most equipped to go deep into the World Cup, it is one of the most significant games in our recent history,” Carragher wrote in his Daily Telegraph column.
“Victories over Tunisia and Panama present an opportunity Gareth Southgate could not have planned any better. Rather than treat the fixture with Belgium as a final group game, tactically and psychologically he and his staff should be drilling the message into his players the knockout stage starts now.
“Of course, technically that is not the case. England can afford to lose their next game. But we have become so unaccustomed to taking big scalps at major tournaments – particularly in the knockout rounds – I want to see England approach Thursday’s game with the mentality of a last-sixteen tie.
“This can be the perfect dress rehearsal.
“It might be that finishing below Belgium creates what appears to be a more ‘favourable’ draw, avoiding Brazil or Germany in the last eight. Equally, the group’s top side may avoid a tricky last-16 meeting with Senegal, who include Sadio Mane and Ismaila Sarr, or impressive Colombia.
“What looks more desirable does not always work that way – have we forgotten the pre-match optimism before Iceland two years ago? England must plot their route by trying to win against Belgium rather than half-heartedly accepting a defeat, or waiting to see if the fair-play table decides the placing.
“I want to see England adopt the mentality they will need against tougher opponents in the knockout stage. How often have we seen the side settle into a holding pattern where extra-time or penalties loom?
“If the game is level with 20 minutes remaining, what better chance to take tactical risks to open the game and go for the win, knowing it is not the end of the competition should it go wrong? Even if a draw is working to England’s advantage, there is a chance to experiment with more tactical drills with regards protecting a result. Imagine the belief in the players if their courage secures a positive outcome again Belgium. Confidence will soar.
“Rather than worrying who England can meet, a message can be sent to others that England are the side everyone else should seek to avoid.”