England will ‘play to win’ against Belgium – Southgate

England manager Gareth Southgate insists they will go all out to win their final World Cup group game against Belgium in Kaliningrad and top Group G – then worry about future opponents in the knockout phase.

Southgate’s side have already secured a last 16 place and Thursday’s game will decide who wins the group.

He dismissed theories England may even benefit from finishing below Belgium to map out an easier route in Russia.

He said: “We have not won a knockout game at the World Cup since 2006, so why we would start plotting which would be a better venue for our semi-final would be beyond me.”

Southgate is expected to make changes with a place in the knockout stage assured, as will his Belgium counterpart Roberto Martinez.

He added: “We think that we need to keep winning football matches and we want to breed a mentality that everybody in our squad consistently wants to win.

“We have no idea who, when or where we will play in the next round. We are pleased we are there in that next round but we are building a team that everybody at home can see has a passion to play for England and are improving and I think they will see that on Thursday.”

If England draw, the game will be decided on both sides’ respective disciplinary records – Southgate’s side have two yellow cards to Belgium’s three – and if they are level, lots will be drawn.

Southgate also believes his emerging England side needs to put a marker down against the top sides, starting with Belgium who are ranked third in the Fifa rankings.

England, who are 12th, have not beaten a team ranked higher than them at a World Cup since third-ranked Argentina were beaten in Sapporo in the 2002 World Cup.

Southgate said: “We are really pleased with the way we are playing but we are still a team that has a lot of improvement.

“We are going to face tough challenges in our next few games. We can’t consider ourselves a top team until we start beating those top teams. We have had good performances – drawing against Brazil and Germany in friendlies and our last defeat was away to France last June.

“We are really pleased we had these matches. We need to test ourselves against the best but we are a team that has a lot of hunger to keep improving and we are playing with a lot of confidence, which is very important.”

Southgate reflected on World Cup holders’ Germany’s surprise exit at the group stage following their loss to South Korea as an example of the folly of looking ahead to potential future routes deeper into the competition instead of taking care of immediate priorities.

“You just can’t take anything for granted,” he said. “The margins are so fine within the matches. We were watching Argentina play Nigeria and then Portugal and Spain the night before and one decision at one end of the pitch and another decision within two minutes and the situation in the group changed completely.

“This is what is brilliant about tournaments. You don’t know what will happen. Everyone was saying we had seen great matches but all the top teams would get through – now Germany are out and they haven’t.

“This is what attracts everyone to World Cups and European Championships. The thrill to be part of it is fantastic.”

Southgate is expected to make changes, with Eric Dier making his first start of the tournament and both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Danny Rose in line to replace Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young.

Gary Cahill may also make his first start in Russia while Marcus Rashford is in contention, although captain Harry Kane, the World Cup’s current top scorer with five goals, is likely to start.

Southgate refused to be drawn on Kane, saying: “I never given the opposition any help with what our team may be.”

He added: “I think the intensity of the game will be good. The players who come in when we make changes have a high level of motivation. They have a brilliant opportunity to play in a World Cup.

“They want to show what they can do because one of the key things for me is that everybody is ready to come in for this game and the games beyond that. It’s the great chance for the guys to get match minutes and sharpness against quality opposition. I think the level of the game will be high.”




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