By RICHARD CAWLEY
Ruben Loftus-Cheek has dismissed the notion that England could be happy not to beat Belgium on Thursday and potentially secure an easier passage in the knockout stages of the World Cup.
The Three Lions made sure of reaching the last 16 with a 6-1 demolition of Panama on Sunday afternoon to top Group G.
Now comes a Thursday showdown with Belgium – with both nations enjoying identical goal differences and the same amount of goals scored and conceded.
England sit in pole position due to their better disciplinary record.
If that were also to be the same after Thursday’s fixture then lots would be drawn to determine who finishes first.
Lewisham’s Loftus-Cheek, who started the Panama match and collected his sixth cap at senior level, said: “We go into the Belgium game and we want to win, that’s just natural for this group.
“We want to win every game. The pressure is not on us to win, but I’m sure the boys and staff will want to win.
“To get a 6-1 and a World Cup start is fantastic. I’m delighted with it.”
But England boss Gareth Southgate, who cut his playing teeth as a centre-back at Crystal Palace, was not totally pleased with the weekend’s performance.
Former Millwall loanee Harry Kane scored a hat-trick, only Geoff Hurst and Gary Lineker had achieved that feat at a World Cup finals for the Three Lions.
“I didn’t particularly like the performance,” said Southgate. “I didn’t like the start and I didn’t like the [Panama] goal at the end. But I guess the bits in the middle were pretty good.
“I’m being hyper-critical. I just thought we were a little bit anxious at the start. It was difficult. They had six at the back and three in midfield – they pressure well. But once we worked that out then we played some really good stuff for 35-40 minutes.
“We talked at half-time about the importance of getting one more goal to be top of the group, that’s why the goal at the end was disappointing.”
Asked if it would be better to come first or runner-up in the group, Southgate replied: “We don’t know.
“But I’d rather be in control of it then not.
“Confidence-wise it was important we’re able to score goals and have big moments. It was great for Jesse Lingard in particular and great for the captain to get a hat-trick – it meant he didn’t have the hump when I brought him off.”
Southgate described Loftus-Cheek’s first-half booking as “harsh” but will now weigh up what changes to make for the game against Belgium.
“We want to keep momentum, so we’ll have to have a think exactly about the team we put out,” he added.
“It is an opportunity as well for players that need a match because they have not played for a while. But we want to keep winning football matches. It’s a nice decision to have.”
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