England manager Gareth Southgate believes it is foolish to plot a hypothetical route to the World Cup final with their poor record in knockout football over the past decade.
The Three Lions take on Belgium in Kaliningrad on Thursday, with both teams already assured of their place in the last 16 after taking six points from six in Group G.
Reigning champions Germany labouring to an early exit and Argentina scraping second in Group D behind Croatia means the runners-up in England and Belgium’s section could have a more comfortable run of games on paper.
But Southgate feels the fact his country last won outside of the group stages at a major tournament in 2006 should override any plotting on the behalf of his youthful and in-form side.
“We think that we need to keep winning football matches and we want to breed a mentality where everyone in our squad wants to constantly win,” he told a pre-match news conference.
“We’ve not won a knockout game since 2006; why we’re trying to plot what would be a better route for our semi-final is beyond me
“First and foremost, I think it’s really important that we are building a team that everyone at home can see are passionate about playing for England and want to win every time they go out.”
— England (@England) June 27, 2018
England are level on points, goal difference and goals scored with Roberto Martinez’s team. In the event of a draw, whoever is better off in terms of FIFA’s fair play table would win the group.
When his team’s disciplinary caution or otherwise in that scenario was brought up, Southgate took the opportunity to joke about uncharacteristically lashing out at his opposite number on the sidelines.
“If I go and headbutt Roberto in the last five minutes then you’ll know that we’re maybe taking a different approach to getting through,” he chuckled.
“We’re always talking with our players about discipline on the pitch, avoiding giving away unnecessary free-kicks.
“Part of the discipline of being in tournaments is to minimise yellow cards so you have players available for future games.”
Southgate added: “We want to win the game, that would mean we top the group and go into whatever game we go into moving forward
“We’re trying to develop a winning mentality and I can’t imagine a situation where I stand in front of the players I’ve got start talking to them about anything else.”
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