Will finishing second be a blessing in disguise for England and Belgium?

Thursday sees England and Belgium battle it out for top spot in Group G. Both teams have been really impressive so far, scoring 8 goals in their two games en route a perfect record of six points. Even though Tunisia and Panama were probably not the best litmus tests, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that England and Belgium have probably been two of the best sides in the tournament so far. The other “big boys” like Brazil, Germany, France and Spain have all huffed and puffed their way through the tournament so far and even though they are all expected to make it through the last 16, their aura of invincibility has certainly been shattered.

The winner and runner-up from Group G will take on the runner-up and winner, respectively, from Group H. As things stand, Senegal and Japan are tied at the top with identical records. Colombia, arguably the strongest team on paper in that group, faced a roadblock in the first game, when a pre-game injury to James Rodriguez and an early red card saw them succumb to a 2-1 loss against Japan. They must now beat Senegal in order to qualify.

Finishing first could see Belgium or England square off against Colombia, a team they will most certainly want to avoid. Also, looking further forward, the team that finishes second will most likely avoid Germany in the quarter-finals. The defending champions lost their opening game to Mexico, and if the North Americans can get a point against Sweden in their final group game, it is they who will qualify as group winners. Germany will take a different route instead, if they can get all three points against South Korea on Thursday and qualify. On the other hand, the Group G winner will most likely run into Brazil in the last 8. Even though the Selecao haven’t been at their best so far, the quality at their disposal is immense a they can turn up the style whenever they want to.

It is going to be very interesting to see how things pan out tomorrow. Belgium manager Roberto Martinez has hinted that he might rest both Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku for this one, after both the star men picked up slight niggles in the last game. England will look to capitalize on this, but finishing first may not be so helpful after all. Either way, that will not stopping either side from going for the win.

An interesting situation could come up if the game were to end as a draw. At the moment, both the teams are level on 6 points, and have also scored and conceded he exact same number of goals. If it’s a draw, head-to-head will be taken out of the equation as well. In that case, the team with the fewer number of yellow cards will finish top of the group. At the moment, England are winning that battle with two bookings compared with Belgium’s three. If this ends up on the same number as well, we’ll simply draw lots to see who finishes top. It will be one of the few occasions where both parties might wish their name doesn’t get picked first.