By Peter Hall
KALININGRAD, Russia (Reuters) - Germany's exit has no bearing on England preparations for the World Cup latter stages and they will be going all out to win their final Group G match against Belgium, coach Gareth Southgate said on Wednesday.
England go into the Thursday’s game in Kaliningrad having secured progression to the last 16 with a game to spare, four years after crashing out at the group stage in Brazil.
The debate in the run-up to the Belgium clash has centred around whether winning to secure top spot in the group would be beneficial, with avoiding a potential quarter-final against defending champions Germany the focus of media attention.
But after the Germans were knocked out on Wednesday, the question was put to Southgate whether England’s path to the final is now easier with their old foes heading home.
“We have not won a knockout game at a World Cup since 2006, why we would want to plan which would be a better venue for our semi-final is beyond me,” Southgate told reporters.
“We have no idea who, when or where we will play in the next round, but we are pleased we are in it.
“Of course, I am surprised (Germany are out. Here they have)been ahead for about a minute and a half of their three matches.
“I don’t think it (Germany’s exit) has any bearing on us. It shows that with Italy and the Netherlands out before the tournament, Chile, who were in the Confederations Cup final, and now Germany, you cannot relax and miss the opportunity to constantly improve.”
A second-placed finish for England would mean Sweden are potential opponents in the quarter finals, should England get past a last-16 game against Japan, Colombia or Senegal.
Southgate, though, was adamant nothing other than three points against Belgium has been discussed, insisting his side are prepared for the prospect of facing more difficult opponents, having beaten Panama and Tunisia so far in Russia.
“We want to win the game, that would mean we would top the group, and we play who we play in the next round,” Southgate added.
“I am trying to develop a winning mentality. I can’t imagine a situation where I stand in front of the group of players I have got and start talking to them about anything else.
“We had a choice with our friendly matches to play teams who would be a bit easier, but we deliberately chose to play against top teams because we knew it would be better challenge. We have to keep building that belief and building those experiences.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)