Gareth Southgate has a big selection dilemma in front of him
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The boos summed up the mood at Wembley after a dismal draw with Scotland meant England will face a battle to top Group D in Tuesday’s final round of matches. However, all sides involved will be wondering whether finishing second in the group is actually an advantage.
It is a similar situation to three years ago, when Gareth Southgate rotated eight players for the final World Cup Group game against Belgium, with the argument being that if England lost, they would be in the easier half of the draw, particularly by avoiding Brazil.
Southgate’s second string duly lost 1-0 and almost took full advantage of how the draw panned out, beating Colombia and Sweden before being eliminated by Croatia in the semi-finals.
The same could happen this time as the Three Lions look to Tuesday’s game with Czech Republic, with Scotland facing Croatia, in the battle to top the group.
Whoever wins the group will remain at Wembley for all but one game – maintaining home advantage for England and minimising travel issues. The downside is they would face a desperately difficult last-16 tie against the runners-up in Group F – the “Group of Death”. That will likely be Portugal, France or Germany.
After that, Spain are the most likely quarter-final opponents in Rome – the only game they would play away from Wembley – with the Netherlands the team they would potentially face in the last four. If France win Group F then the winner of Group D will avoid them until the final.
The two routes to the final
Come second and the last-16 tie looks far easier, against the runner-up in Group E – probably Sweden in Copenhagen, with the last-eight match in St Petersburg.
France would likely lie in wait there, with Italy or Belgium the likely semi-final opponents at Wembley. Even if England lose on Tuesday, they could still qualify as one of the four best third-placed finishers.