You would think that the first priority for both teams in a football match is to win.
But that might not be the case when England take on Belgium at Kaliningrad Stadium in the World Cup tonight, as both sides could benefit from defeat.
A first place finish in Group G for England will see them enter on the left side of the draw – seen by many as the harder route to the final. A second place finish will put England on the right
England and Belgium fans together in Kaliningrad today before the World Cup Group G match
Belgium fan Caroline Prin-Derre and England fan Rachel Pearse from London (left), and a Belgium fan with sunglasses and a hat in his country’s colours (right) are in Kaliningrad today
Nikki McKenna, 29, donned a dress in the colours of the St George’s flag as she looked forward to tonight’s match in Kaliningrad
England fans enjoy the day in Kaliningrad before the final Group G match against Belgium
However, the winner of tonight’s game in Group G will play Brazil or Mexico in the quarter-finals – and then France, Argentina, Uruguay or Portugal in the semis.
Ahead of the match at 7pm UK time in Kaliningrad, Belgium and England sit exactly level on six points, a goal difference of six and eight goals scored.
A draw would therefore see them split by their disciplinary record – which England lead with two yellow cards to Belgium’s three – or, if that is level, drawing lots.
Fans are dubious about the potential quality of tonight’s match, despite manager Gareth Southgate dismissing talk that finishing as runners-up could be favourable.
Some are worried it could rival Denmark’s lacklustre 0-0 with France on Monday in which both teams got the draw they needed but were booed off at the end.
England fans from Bristol with their club name in Russian at Victory Square in Kaliningrad
An England and Leicester City fan shows off his huge tattoo in Kaliningrad today
A girl shows off her support for England with a St George’s Cross on her face in Kaliningrad
England fans enjoy a beer ahead of the World Cup match in Kaliningrad tonight
Others have even spoken of the infamously boring ‘Disgrace of Gijón’ at World Cup 1982, when West Germany beat Austria 1-0 in a group stage match.
In that game, the Germans scored after ten minutes, but the next 80 were played out with very little action – as the Austrians knew the result would take them through.
In Russia today, England fans were brimming with confidence ahead of the Three Lions’ World Cup group decider, whose fans feared the threat of Harry Kane.
Thousands of England fans are expected to travel to Kaliningrad for the game, with 2,659 tickets sold through the Football Association alone.
A large group of supporters gathered in a pub in central Kaliningrad, the capital of the Russian exclave of the same name, and sang late into yesterday evening.
BOLD ENGLAND FAN GETS WORLD CUP WINNERS TATTOO – THREE WEEKS BEFORE THE FINAL
Jamie Richardson has had the words ‘England 2018 World Cup Winners’ inked on his stomach three weeks before the final
One fan is so assured England will win the World Cup that he got a tattoo etched on his stomach – three weeks before the final.
Carpet fitter Jamie Richardson has had the words ‘England 2018 World Cup Winners’ inked on his belly alongside an image of the cup.
The father-of-one, from Allerton Bywater in west Yorkshire, said he has ‘no doubt’ England will win.
The Leeds United fan said: ‘I’ve not just got it done willy-nilly, I totally and truthfully believe we’re going to do it.
‘It just came to me like a premonition.’
The 32-year-old has also pledged to carry an England flag around permanently, and said if he is caught without it he will pay £20 to charity
Mr Richardson phoned ten tattoo shops before he found someone who would carry out the work.
He avoided telling his girlfriend about his new artwork and only told her after he’d had it done.
The 32-year-old has also pledged to carry an England flag around permanently, and said if he is caught without it he will pay £20 to charity.
This morning those who made the trip to Kaliningrad’s Rectory Square said they are excited about what will happen later.
Ian Wilson, 50, Bristol, said ‘I followed England all over the world and I had to come here. It’s just in my blood and I’m here with my mates from Bristol and we think we’re going all the way in this World Cup.’
His friend Derek Batten, 70, said: ‘There’s such a great feeling along the England supporters here. England doesn’t expect this time and that’s taken a lot off the pressure from the team. Every win is a bonus and that way we can make play football the way we want. ‘
Jessica Thomas, an accounts assistant, 27, of Oldham, said : ‘I back England to do it tonight and keep their confidence high. ‘I know the whole county will be watching on TV tonight. I’m so lucky to be here. I can’t believe it. I have to pinch myself.’
A Seasons Scaffolding team put up an eight-storey flag on Albany Towers in Hove, East Sussex
England fans in a bar in Kaliningrad yesterday ahead of the match against Belgium tonight
Thousands of England football fans are expected to travel to Kaliningrad for tonight’s game
Police monitor English football fans in a bar in Kaliningrad ahead of the Belgium match
Many fans felt England should play to win the match, despite the fact England have not won a knockout game since the World Cup in 2006.
England’s potential World Cup opponents
Who could England play if they finish first in Group G tonight?
Second round: Japan, Senegal or Colombia
Quarter-final: Brazil or Mexico
Semi-final: France, Argentina, Uruguay or Portugal
Final: Spain, Russia, Croatia, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, Senegal or Colombia
Who could England play if they finish second in Group G tonight?
Second round: Japan, Senegal or Colombia
Quarter-final: Sweden or Switzerland
Semi-final: Spain, Russia, Croatia or Denmark
Final: France, Argentina, Uruguay, Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Senegal or Colombia
But Belgium boss Roberto Martinez reportedly favours a second-place finish and is expected to rest players.
Belgium fan Mark Moors, 50, of Brussels, said he agreed with his national team’s manager and preferred a draw.
He said: ‘For tomorrow I hope it will be a good game because I’m afraid second place may be better in the group. Because of the next rounds and the opposing teams you are going to meet.
‘All players with a yellow card and with minor injuries, they will not play. It’s going to be six or seven players. I think it’s logic. Maybe the English team are thinking the same thing but they are not expressing it like us.’
He added he was concerned about the prowess of England captain Kane, who is the tournament’s top scorer with five goals so far. ‘Kane can hurt us,’ he said.
‘But I think it’s the same like Belgium they have a great attack and then the defence there might be some weakness. Kane is strong, he has confidence right now, he wants to be the top scorer. That’s the guy we fear.’
England fans are expected to turn out in greater numbers for the match, nicknamed the ‘Brexit Derby’, after one leading fan group estimated the turnout for the first game against Tunisia was the lowest travelling support for 30 years.
A Belgium fan in a bar in Kaliningrad, as supporters prepare for the Group G decider tonight
England manager Gareth Southgate (left) and Belgium boss Roberto Martinez (right) yesterday
A view of the Kaliningrad Stadium where England will play Belgium in the World Cup tonight
The flag of St George flies above 10 Downing Street today in support of the England team
And Will Tomlinson, 34, from Retford, in Nottinghamshire, said he hoped for an English influx as the team progressed through the tournament.
He said: ‘We’ve got loads of friends who were umming and ahhing whether to come. We want to see every England fan coming over, especially now we are playing well.’
Southgate has told England’s players to play without fear and grab their chance against Belgium as they may only get one shot at the World Cup.
The England manager is looking to strike a balance between keeping key men fresh and squad players happy.
England’s two routes through the World Cup knockout stages
England v Belgium tonight will decide who finishes top and second in Group G.
Gareth Southgate’s side will at least be able to go into the match with the full picture of how the rest of the knockout stage looks before kick-off at 7pm.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at the two routes England could take if they finished first or second, with further opponents selected by world ranking.
Route 1 – England finish top
v Senegal, last 16
The Lions of Teranga are currently second in Group H with a game against Colombia to come. Liverpool forward Sadio Mane’s pace and guile would be a threat to the Three Lions.
v Brazil, quarter-final
Brazil will be favourites to beat Mexico in the last 16 and could be England’s quarter-final opponents, just as they were at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. The South Americans appear to be moving through the gears and the in-form Philippe Coutinho and unpredictable Neymar would be obvious threats.
v Portugal, semi-final
Should England come through a meeting with the Brazilians, Cristiano Ronaldo and co could lie in wait in the final four. A chance for revenge after penalty shoot-out defeats to them at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup? Portugal’s ranking suggests they would overcome Uruguay and Argentina to reach this stage.
v Belgium, final
Route one ends where it began – together with Belgium again, albeit with much more riding on the outcome in Moscow than in Kaliningrad. Would Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ prevail over Southgate’s precocious lion cubs?
Route 2 – England finish second
v Japan, last 16
The Blue Samurai have performed well despite sacking coach Vahid Halilhodzic in April. They are top of Group H currently and face eliminated Poland in their final game on Thursday afternoon.
v Switzerland, quarter-finals
The world rankings suggest the Swiss would get the better of Sweden in the last 16, but England would certainly prefer this to an encounter with Brazil.
v Spain, semi-finals
The 2010 winners at their best can still pass teams off the pitch, but Portugal demonstrated their weaknesses and even Iran had them rattled. The rankings suggest Fernando Hierro’s men could reach this stage by beating Russia and Croatia.
v Brazil, final
There’s just no avoiding Brazil, the highest-ranked team left in the competition after Germany’s exit. The South Americans would have to get past Mexico, Belgium and Portugal to get this far, but they have the pedigree to do it.
Author: Nancy Parker
Nancy Parker is a five time Emmy Award winning journalist and seven time Emmy nominee who has spent almost twenty five years covering news in South Louisiana. She has anchored every prime time newscast at WVUE FOX8 during her twenty year tenure in New Orleans.