Gareth Southgate points to Germany's exit as to why England will not seek the easier path against Belgium

Simon Peach 27/06/2018
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England boss Gareth Southgate insists Germany’s shock World Cup exit underlines why he will not be attempting to plot an easier route against Belgium on Thursday.

The anticipation for the Kaliningrad clash has tapered off somewhat after the Three Lions’ 6-1 win over Panama on Sunday ensured their progress to the last-16, alongside the Red Devils, with a game to spare.

The managers will make changes for the Group G encounter in a bid to keep key men fresh, despite the fact England and Belgium are currently level in terms of points, goal difference and goals scored.

Roberto Martinez‘s side reportedly favour finishing runners-up given the seemingly preferable route to the final, but there is no such talk from Southgate.

“We think that we need to keep winning football matches,” he said when asked about his approach, two years to the day since the humiliating Euro 2016 exit to Iceland.

“We want to breed a mentality that everybody in our squad wants to constantly win.

“We’ve not won a knockout game since 2006. Why we are starting to plot which would be a better venue for our semi-final is beyond me, really.

“We have no idea who, when or where we will play in the next round, but we’re pleased that we’re in the next round.

“But, first and foremost, I think it’s really important that we’re building a team that I think everybody at home can see are passionate to play for England, want to win every time they go out, and are improving all the time.

“I think we’ll see that again tomorrow and I am really looking forward to seeing us play again.”

Watching their side again is not something Germany fans will be able to do this summer after the reigning champions were dumped out by South Korea.

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“Of course I’m surprised,” Southgate said moments after their exit was confirmed. “I was here last summer for the Confederations Cup and they brought a young team, they also won the Under-21 finals.

“But in this tournament I think they’ve been ahead for about a minute and a half of their three matches.

“It’s been unusual to see them struggle as much as they have, but the level of all the teams is strong.”

Southgate believes the Germany result shows that “anyone is vulnerable on any given day” as England look to win all three World Cup group games for just the second time.

Asked if the Germany result underlines the madness of attempting to plot their own route, Southgate said: “Yeah, you can’t take anything for granted. The margins are so fine within the matches.

“We’re watching Argentina last night, we were watching Portugal and Spain the evening before – one decision at one end of the pitch, and a decision within two minutes – the situation in the group changed completely.

“That’s what’s brilliant about tournaments. That’s what makes them so exciting – that you just don’t know what is going to happen.

“Even before today, we were saying there’s been some great games but all the top teams have got through. Well, actually now they haven’t.”

Progress is not an issue for England but Southgate kept his cards close to his chest in terms of selection, confirming Eric Dier’s starting role amid questions over Harry Kane’s participation.

“This is a great chance for the guys to get match minutes, match sharpness against good quality opposition,” the Three Lions manager said.

“I think the level of the game will be high – higher than perhaps if there weren’t changes given both teams are through.”

Southgate was more forthcoming on his approach to discipline given fair play could decide the Group G winner.

“If I go and headbutt Roberto in the last five minutes, then you’ll know that maybe we’re taking a different approach to getting through,” he said with a smile.

“We’re always talking to our players about discipline on the pitch, avoiding conceding unnecessary free-kicks, and part of the discipline of being in the tournament is to minimise yellow cards because you want to have players available for the future.

“We want to win the game. That would mean we top the group and we would go into whatever game we go into moving forward.”

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Andreas Granqvist is our Hero of the Day after captain fantastic leads Sweden to World Cup knockouts

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Brought to you by Dior Sauvage

Sweden centre-back and captain Andreas Granqvist put in a superb showing to lead his side to a 3-0 win over Mexico that sealed their spot in the round of 16 at the World Cup.

His penalty to make it 2-0, Granqvist’s second spot-kick of the tournament, put his side in control of their game and they ended up progressing as group winners.

Here’s an in-depth look at the Sweden skipper’s match-winning display.

0627 Hero of the Day

30-SECOND REPORT

Granqvist is the classic old-school captain, a roaring, inspirational presence at the heart of his defence, leading from the front and coaxing the best out of his team-mates. He’d already done it once, the heroic 0-0 draw with Italy in the second leg of their qualifying playoff that sealed their World Cup spot. Wednesday, and he provided an encore.

GOT RIGHT

Attacking presence – It wasn’t just the penalty – Granqvist was a threat going in the opposing box all game, as Sweden targeted Mexico with an aerial bombardment. His presence for set-pieces caused havoc.

Leadership – Granqvist made sure his team-mates’ focus never dropped, commanding his back-line with aplomb, and proving a robust defender throughout. He was captain cool from the spot when taking his penalty.

GOT WRONG

Absolutely nothing. The 33-year-old didn’t put a foot wrong in defence, emerging successful in all of his attempted tackles and repelling what little attacking threat Mexico had. His big-game mentality is exactly what his team needed in a game of this magnitude, and he delivered, with a superlative display. This was a typical captain’s performance from Granqvist.

VERDICT

Granqvist knows he’s a totemic figure for his team, the man everyone else looks to when in high-pressure situations. His team-mates would have loved what they saw today – an absolute rock in defence, showcasing his best “you shall not pass” mentality at the back, and there’s no one they’d rather have taking a crunch penalty.

RATING – 9/10

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Mats Hummels says Germany in 'bitter' shock after World Cup exit

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Hummels was in shock over Germany's World Cup exit.

Germany defender Mats Hummels said his side’s exit at the group stage of the World Cup was a “bitter” shock.

A 2-0 loss to South Korea on Wednesday saw them finish bottom of Group F, their first group stage exit since 1938.

“It is a really, really bitter evening for us,” Hummels said.

“The situation is very difficult to put into words,” he told ZDF.

“We did not put the ball in the net, even though we had plenty of opportunities, including myself in the 86th minute – I have to score from chances like that.

“It is a very bitter evening for us and for all German football fans.

“We believed in it until the very end, we tried to shoot, but we just couldn’t get the ball in.

“We had plenty of opportunities, we broke our necks trying out there today.”

Germany were the reigning World Cup champions heading into the tournament, and qualified on the back of a perfect record of 10 wins during European qualifying, but Hummels says they haven’t played well since sealing their spot at this summer’s tournament last year.

“We put ourselves in this situation after the Mexican game,” the Bayern Munich defender said, referring to Germany’s 1-0 loss to Mexico in their tournament opener.

“The last game we delivered a good performance was in the autumn of 2017.”

Meanwhile, midfielder Sami Khedira acknowledged that he and his teammates Germany had simply failed to live up to the expectations of being defending champions in Russia.

“This is one of the most difficult moments for the team and me personally,” the Juventus midfielder said.

“Before the tournament, we said that the world champions have to lead the way.

“That is not easy to do, but we didn’t take on the task.

“Personally, I am one of the first to take responsibility and we now have to live with the consequences.

“The last 10 years have been sensational,” he added.

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