Jordan Henderson has had a strong start to the World Cup, being named Man of the Match for a widely praised performance in England’s first game victory over Tunisia and only being overshadowed in yesterday’s win over Panama by Harry Kane’s penalty spot heroics.
Next up for them is Belgium, and with both sides having already qualified, talk has turned to how they will approach the match—and, perhaps inevitably, some will be asking if finishing second in the group might be preferable. Henderson isn’t interested having that.
“We’re ready to take on any opponent,” he said following Sunday’s 6-1 thumping of Panama. “What might happen later, I’m not thinking that way. We’re concentrating on beating Belgium. We want to keep winning, want to top the group—we want to keep this run going.”
England and Belgium are level on points, goal differential, and goals scored. Meaning if they play out a draw, the resulting tie will have be broken by which side has the better fair play record. Whoever comes out top—by victory or tie-break—faces Group H’s second side.
The side that finishes second will then face Group H’s winner. Right now, Senegal and Japan are level at the top of Group H, but Colombia are also in play and any of the three countries could finish top, second, or out of the running after the next round of matches.
All of which means that even if England did have a preferred match-up, it would be almost impossible to know which result would earn it. Plus, the group winners and runners-up will end up on different sides of the knockout round bracket for the quarter- and semi-finals.
Win, and as things stand right now at least you’re going into the side of the bracket with the big names—France, Brazil, Spain, and Germany. Lose, and as things stand right now you end up in the side of the bracket with Portugal, Denmark, Mexico, and Switzerland.
On paper, then, you might want to finish second—though a few of those big names have struggled at times here at the World Cup, and the final round of games could end with the brackets looking very, very different than they do after the first two group stage games.
“If you want to do well in the World Cup, you have to defeat good teams anyway,” Henderson insisted. “So it doesn’t really matter who you get. We want to build on our performances so far, we want our level to keep improving, to keep getting better.
“You want to keep that going right the way through the tournament. We don’t want to be thinking too far into things and getting caught up in all that sort of stuff. Top teams win games, it’s as simple as that.”