Gareth Southgate says Harry Kane 'totally understood' Belgium benching after heart-to-heart talks

Saturday, 30 Jun, 2018

Depending on the outcome of other games, it may not be an advantage to finish top of the group, but both sides insist they won't take such calculations into account.

Mission accomplished, I suppose. It felt like a proper World Cup match in the stands, even if it was a unusual affair on it, with two of the best benches in World Cup history.

Both halves of the draw are hard.

With a combined 17 changes - eight for England, nine Belgium - the game played out as expected; kind of awkwardly.

Loew, who led his side to glory against Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil, refused to be drawn on his future in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday´s result. Usually, that is on a run, but after dislocating his shoulder in Repino during a day off last week, Southgate has spent time gathering his thoughts on a Wattbike, instead.

Belgium seemed happy with their lot, so England pressed and Rashford hammered a free kick over the bar.

He was also able to try out with success Thomas Vermaelen, the Barcelona defender out injured for over a month, and later in the game to give a run out to defensive talisman Vincent Kompany, who had also yet to play in Russian Federation due to injury.

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The heat didn't bother me and didn't hear any of the boys saying anything about it. "Let's talk about the other night". England defeated Tunisia 2-1 thanks to a brace from captain Harry Kane in their first Group G match on Monday.

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I'd argue Belgium's path to the final is no more hard given England likely will need to get through Colombia and Spain.

Belgium have the resources to better overcome the absence of the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. "He had no further damage but it is still uncomfortable", Martinez told his pre-match news conference on the eve of the game. "That's what I did tonight". I know in some quarters that will be criticised but I am entirely comfortable with that.

What looked like being one of the ties of the group stage instead became a rather odd encounter given the talk about the most favourable knockout route, including suggestions that finishing runners-up may be preferable. "But the main thing is getting the team through the first knock-out". When the ball is given to Rose and Trippier they will send in good balls and Kane knows that because he plays with them for Spurs - that connection is important. "Whatever happens next week that was the right decision", he added.

Southgate's selection gave some of England's under-utilised squad the opportunity to make him sit up and take notice for the knockout stages.

He contradicted himself by essentially saying England is still growing ahead of a fixture in which it can't afford to be uncertain.

In reality, the answer can only be given after Tuesday's last-16 game when Southgate's England are restored to full force. "For now, Japan is the only priority that we have".

That certainly bodes well, but no football game is ever a dead cert. Having started the tournament on fire, England now has to turn on the style again against Colombia and there will be a huge outcry if they flop again for many will point to this performance as the root of it.