Belgium made 9 changes and England eight as star strikers Romalu Lukaku and Harry Kane were rested.
Whoever comes second would also play two of the three knockout rounds to the final in the comfort of Moscow – where Belgium have their camp – whereas the victor faces thousands of air miles travelling to Rostov-on-Don, Kazan and St Petersburg. Although it was one of the standout fixtures in the group stages prior to the World Cup, the fact that both teams are already through to the knockout stages means the match could be a low-key affair devoid of any real drama. He is expected to revert to the lineup that defeated Tunisia in the opening Group G fixture on Tuesday against Colombia, with Dele Alli fit to return in place of Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Belgium earned two yellow cards in the first half – giving it five for the tournament compared to England’s two.
Having already qualified for the knockout stage, England and Belgium played out one of the most freaky group games you’ll see in a World Cup with both selecting B teams and appearing as though winning was the last thing on their mind.
England launched a wave of attacks on Belgium’s defence later on but the Red Devils’ defence made sure they see out a victory in the game.
Belgium’s win doesn’t come without benefit – the team will matchup against Japan in its first match of the knockout round, while England will be facing off against Colombia, likely a more hard draw en route in the round of 16. My first goal, there is no greater feeling.
Japan, on four points alongside Senegal, take on Poland in Volgograd while the African team play Colombia, who have three points, in Samara. It is also worth noting that England would have had to play a day earlier if they had come top of the group.
But after the Germans were knocked out on Wednesday, the question was put to Southgate whether England’s path to the final is now easier with their old foes heading home.
“Everyone understands the knockout round is the important event”.
England and Belgium will have a better idea of future opponents after Wednesday’s games are over.
With Germany suffering a shock elimination and Brazil not yet guaranteed to qualify, some have suggested finishing second in the group would give England, who are in the aforementioned pair’s half of the draw, an easier route to the final.
Belgium, Croatia and Uruguay were the only teams to win all three group games.
“People will say that will only be the right decision if we win but it was the right decision because we could potentially be going into another match that could go into extra time and risking players we didn’t need to risk”. I think it was planned that we would each play part of the game because we both played the full 90 minutes in the last two games.
“He and [Roberto] Martínez were both probably looking at the bigger picture and know that the next game is the biggest one of them all”.
Belgium players celebrate after the match.