Belgium beats England for top spot in battle of reserves
KALININGRAD, Russia — It had been viewed as the game no one wanted to win but Adnan Januzaj's fine finish early in the second half Thursday, June 28, gave Belgium a 1-0 victory over England to secure the Group G top spot in a contest between two sets of reserves.
The result means Belgium, which won all three of its group games to finish with nine points, will face Japan in the last 16 while England, which came second with six, takes on Colombia.
That gives Gareth Southgate's England a tougher test in the second round, but should they get past the South Americans they will find themselves on a much more promising path to the final.
Belgium's side of the draw includes Brazil, who they could face in the quarter-finals, Argentina, Portugal and France.
England's opponents are, on paper at least, easier—Sweden or Switzerland await in the last eight—and they face less traveling should they progress.
"The knockout game is the biggest game for a decade, so we had to make sure our key players were preserved," said Southgate, having left out captain Harry Kane among others.
"We created openings to get something from the game, but we have to keep improving. I think the supporters know what the most important thing is," he added.
If it was a gamble not to go for the win wholeheartedly then it is one Southgate appears at ease with and he certainly had no regrets about his team selection.
"Sometimes I think you have to look bigger picture and make decisions that might be criticized.
"When you are leader and a manager you need to make decisions that are right for your group and sometimes those decisions will be criticized and I understand that," he said.
It was only Belgium's second ever win over England and their first since 1936 and coach Roberto Martinez suggested he was not worried about the impact of the result on his team's possible future opponents.
Colombia 1, Senegal 0
Colombia's Yerry Mina thumped home a second-half header to secure a dramatic 1-0 victory over Senegal on Thursday that catapulted the South Americans into the World Cup last 16 and dumped their African opponents out of tournament.
Senegal had only needed a point in their final Group H game to reach the next round, but they will head home after missing out on the runners-spot to Japan because they had a worse disciplinary record.
It was the first time in World Cup history that a team had been eliminated by the amount of yellow cards they had accrued in the tournament.
Both Senegal and Japan, which was beaten 1-0 by Poland on Thursday, finished the group with four points and an identical record in all other respects. Yet the Asian side ended in second position having picked up four yellow cards to Senegal's six.
Colombia, top of the standings with six points, will face a last-16 match against Group G runners-up England on Tuesday.
Defeat for Senegal eliminated them at the group stage in their first World Cup appearance since 2002, and left Africa without a representative in the knockout stages for the first time in 36 years.
It was a crushing blow to the Senegalese who had been the better side for most of the game and had a penalty award overturned in the first half after a VAR review.
They had looked set to take the lead in the 17th minute when Liverpool forward Sadio Mane went down in the area under a challenge from Davinson Sanchez and referee Milorad Mazic pointed to the spot.
Poland 1, Japan 0
Japan lost 1-0 to Poland on Thursday, but survived to become the only Asian side to qualify for last 16—and the first team ever to progress thanks to FIFA's new disciplinary tie-breaker rule.
Japan, which had only needed to draw against Poland to guarantee qualification, will next face a daunting task against Belgium.
Their advance, though, came only after a risky gamble paid off.
After Colombia scored against Senegal in the 74th minute, putting qualification in Japan's hands, coach Akira Nishino ordered his players to take no risks, an approach that slowed the game and earned resounding boos from the crowd.
"I decided that I was going to rely on the other match's result. We were not happy about the situation of course. It was not intentional. However, it was a very tough and risky situation," Nishino told reporters.
So risky indeed that had Poland scored another goal, Japan would have been sent tumbling out.
The Asian side were especially vulnerable as Nishino had excluded some of the squad's most creative players, including midfielder Takashi Inui and Makoto Hasebe, from the starting line-up.
He said his decision to make six changes to his side was down to fatigue rather than any attempt to play for a draw.
Nishino, who took over in April after former coach Vahid Halilhodzic was fired, stressed he wanted his squad to play a freer, more attacking style in the last 16 against England or Belgium.
"They are both world-class teams," said Nishino. "I would like to play both of them because they will pose a fantastic challenge for us."
Tunisia 2, Panama 1
Tunisia secured its first World Cup finals win in 40 years with a 2-1 victory over debutantes Panama, but coach Nabil Maaloul said Arab nations still had a long way to go before they could seriously challenge the top sides.
Tunisia trailed 1-0 at halftime in the final Group G match in Saransk despite having the better of play. Fakhreddine Ben Yousseff equalized just after the restart with a neatly taken goal and Wahbi Khazri scored a second to end Tunisia's long drought.
The result brought some vindication for the North Africans, who coach Nabil Maaloul had admitted before the game were demoralized after their defeats by England and Belgium.
But it was tough for Panama, making their first appearance in a World Cup finals, and for their fans in the Monrovia Arena who for a while could dream of a historic win.
Tunisia played fluent football but Panama took the lead after a shot by Jose Luis Rodriguez took a deflection off Tunisian defender Yassine Meriah in the 33rd minute for an own goal.
Having failed to finish off several chances in the first half, Tunisia took six minutes to assert themselves after the restart. Ben Yousseff picked up a low cross from Khazri to slot the ball home from close range.
Khazri added the second in the 66th minute, running unmarked on to a low cross to tap into an open goal.
Panama suffered when captain Roman Torres, who had marshalled the defence well, departed with an injury early in the second half.