World Cup Group G Scenarios: Why England Might Be Better Off Losing Their Final Game

England and Belgium meet on Thursday to determine the winner of Group G, but neither are likely to be too disappointed with a runner-up spot.

Both teams have already qualified for the knockout stages after winning their first two games. The only thing yet to be decided is who will progress as group winner.

GettyImages-985313030
England's coach Gareth Southgate during his press conference ahead of England vs Belgium at the Kaliningrad stadium on June 27, 2018 in Kaliningrad. Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

However, due to results elsewhere, the team that finishes second in the group will end up on the easier side of the draw for the knockout stages, avoiding a potential showdown with Brazil in the quarterfinals.

Whoever of England and Belgium tops the group will face the second-ranked team from Group H, with the winner of the latter group to play the runner-up.

In Group H, Japan, Senegal and Colombia can all still qualify for the next phase. While the latter, in particular, can't be underestimated, the runner-up in England's group will fancy its chances against any of the trio.

The reward for progressing past the round of 16 would be a tie against the winner of Sweden vs Switzerland, with a potential semifinal clash against one of Spain, Russia, Croatia or Denmark.

By contrast, should the winner of Group G get past the round of 16, they could meet Brazil in the quarterfinals, with France, Argentina, Portugal and Uruguay among the possible semifinal opponents.

Before the tournament started, winning the group would have been the priority for both England and Belgium, as the runners-up were expected to find themselves on the same side of the draw as Germany and Argentina.

However, the defending champions crashed out in calamitous fashion, while the other finalist from four years ago barely scraped it into the next round. They finished runners-up to Croatia and are now seeded on the same side of the bracket as whoever wins Group G.

The winner on Thursday will become only the third team, along with Croatia and Uruguay, to win all three group games. However, both England and Belgium are expected to make wholesale changes.

"We have qualified and that was the priority," Belgium coach Roberto Martínez told reporters on Wednesday. "Now we need to look at our individual players. We want to perform well but the priority is not to win. That is the reality, we have put ourselves in this situation, we wanted to qualify and we have done that."

Gareth Southgate, his England counterpart, insisted his side will play to win, adding it was "dangerous" to try to plot a favorable path through the knockout stages, where England have not won a game since 2006.

"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," he said in his pre-match press conference.

"We have no idea who, when or where we will play in the next round."

Sports data company Gracenote has given England a 24 percent chance of reaching the semifinals should they win the group, which increases to 35 percent should England finish second.

World Cup Group G Scenarios: Why England Might Be Better Off Losing Their Final Game | Sports