Roberto Martinez has already hinted that his Belgium side may benefit from a second place finish in Group G.
Following the unpredictability of this summer’s World Cup, not topping the four-team pile may actually prove to be more fruitful in terms of opposition and plotting an ‘easier’ route to the final.
What was expected to be a showdown with either Colombia or Poland in the last 16, could turn into a meeting with neither, with the Poles becoming the first European side to face the exit door last week while Los Cafeteros – heading into their final match – looking set to follow suit.
That, potentially, leaves one of Japan or Senegal between Belgium and England and a place in the quarter finals; which won’t even feature Germany after they lost to South Korea, eliminating them from the competition.
However, more so for the fans than the players, when plotting your route to the final – because, of course, football is coming home – especially in a country as vast as Russia, it is not merely the opposition which plays a significant factor – but also the travel.
England currently sit atop of Group G with six points, eight goals scored while conceding just two. For Belgium, their current haul is a mirror image – meaning the Three Lions find themselves ahead on fair play. Gareth Southgate’s men have picked up two yellow cards, Martinez’s three.
Therefore, if the table remains following the final round of matches on Thursday, Harry Kane and co will advance to the last 16 as group winners. But for those in Russia, that may cause one or two issues.
This is due to the fact that Group G’s winners face a trip to Rostov-on-Don; a city over 1,000km south of Moscow – as well as an extra 800km from England’s base in Repino, and one only accessible for fans – disregarding the over £500 return flight – via a 24-hour train journey, each way, or around the same on a coach.
On the other hand, however, securing second place not only has the potential to offer up a less challenging route to the latter rounds of the competition but also sees a visit to Spartak Moscow’s stadium on the agenda – a venture much more welcoming to nearly all on the ground.
And should England progress past the round of 16 after ending runners-up in Group G, another two visits to Moscow make up the next three outings, while via the other route, a lengthy journey to Kazan is followed by a short ride to Saint Petersburg before the final in the capital.
Of course, as an England fan, you want to see the Three Lions roar to victory on every occasion. It would be a peculiar feeling to stand, watching on in Kaliningrad on Thursday, hoping for Belgium to take maximum points.
However, should it prove to be that Martinez’s men possess too much on the pitch for Southgate’s, at least the thinnest of silver linings will be avoiding an over 48-hour return train journey.