Former England and ?Tottenham defender Ledley King has insisted that Gareth Southgate and his players will not be going into Thursday evening’s final Group G game against Belgium looking to deliberately drop points and engineer and ‘easier’ run through the knockout stages of the World Cup.
If the Three Lions beat Roberto Martinez’s men, they look set to face Brazil in the quarter-finals of the competition, likely via a last 16 clash with a dangerous Colombia team, depending on how José Pékerman’s side fare on Thursday afternoon.
However should Belgium finish above England, a quarter final against either Sweden or Switzerland would await them, after a likely last 16 clash with surprise Group H leaders Japan.
King though, talking to 90min at the William Hill Arms, insisted: “I don’t think it’s in our nature to think that way. In other sports, strategy does come into play and it can be quite important if you really want to progress – sometimes you have to be a little bit clever – but I don’t think it’s in our nature.
“What I would expect is the manager to make a few changes. Some people are on yellows or have knocks, I’m sure there’ll be a few fresh faces and you just let the game play out. But it’s impossible to go out and try to draw or lose a game, they’ll play to win and what happens will happen.”
Roberto Martinez is expected to make wholesale changes to his Belgium side for Thursday’s game, but King fired a warning to – if not England – then the Red Devils’ last 16 opponents, saying: “The player with the X factor is Hazard. He’s one of the best players in the world when he’s on form, and any time you can keep him quiet you stand a good chance of winning.
“Obviously Lukaku’s in great form as well, and he’s hard to stop when he’s feeling good and feeling confident. Hazard’s the real world class player though, who can put teams on the back foot and change games.”
Southgate’s England setup has been praised for its spirit in recent weeks, with players facing off against the media in games of darts and pool, and King admitted that the current squad compare favourably when measured up against the teams he was a part of in the ‘golden generation’ of a decade previous.
“When I look back at it, we all got on fine – but it needs to be more than that when you’re playing together in a tournament. You’ve got to really enjoy each other’s company and love playing together, and I think this group do. That’s the difference, that’s why they’re able to perform so well.
“As I say, we didn’t think we had a problem within camp, everyone got one and everyone talked, but there’s levels to it and I think this group is enjoying each other’s company and playing together. I used to look around and see other teams who really enjoyed playing for their country, enjoyed playing under no pressure, and we never really managed to deal with.”
The positive spirit around the team has been picked up on social media, with countless fans insisting that ‘it’ is ‘coming home’ while making references to The Lightning Seeds’ hit ‘Three Lions’ – originally released for the 1996 Euros and reprised two years later for the ’98 World Cup.
“Got to be ’96, the first one,” King laughed. “And the tournament as well! That’s definitely the one that stands out.
“Is it coming home? This is a good a chance as we’ve had in a long, long time. I don’t think people would have thought that before the tournament but looking at it now, England have been as good as anyone and on form, there’s a great chance that it could be. It could be! It’s been so long that we’re scared to say it, but the way this team are playing they’ve got as good a chance as anyone.”
Ledley King was speaking at the William Hill Arms, the pub which will offer fans the ultimate England watching experience including expert analysis, plus free food and drink. For your chance to win exclusive access to England’s last 16 fixture at the pub, head to William Hill’s ?Twitter or ?Facebook pages. William Hill has over 200 markets available on every World Cup match #ThisIsMore #itscominghome