World Cup 2018: Is it easier if England finish second in group?

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World Cup 2018: 'England can exploit Belgium's defence'
bbc.comIt's the question on the lips of every England fan - is it better to lose to Belgium on Thursday?Both Gareth Southgate's side and the Belgians have secured a place in the last 16, with only the winner of the group to be decided in Kaliningrad.But is there an easier route through the knockout stages on offer to the team who finish second?
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has already hinted at wholesale changes - with Romelu Lukaku ruled out - while Southgate has pointed out that with no knockout game wins since 2006, it is silly for England to look too far ahead.
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'Now or never for Belgium'
Group G as it stands
[img]data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAIAAAAAAAP///yH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBRAA7" data-src="{width}{hidpi}/cpsprodpb/B723/production/_102238864_groupg.png" data-sizes="auto" alt="This is the Group G table of the 2018 World Cup after two games. England lead with six points, Belgium are second with six points, Tunisia are third with zero points and Panama are bottom">
What if England win[/img]

[img]data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAIAAAAAAAP///yH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBRAA7" data-src="{width}{hidpi}/cpsprodpb/2637/production/_102238790_wc_permutations_top_v3.png" data-sizes="auto" alt="If England top their group they could face Colombia, Senegal or Japan in the last 16, Brazil or Mexico in the quarter-finals, and Uruguay, Portugal, France or Argentina in the semis">
Win the group and face this path...
What if England lose[/img]
Finishing second in the group with defeat by Belgium - or a draw and a host of yellow cards (more on that below) - may not be so dire an outcome for England.Going via this route England could come up against Spain - but they have got past Spain at a major tournament more recently than they have lost to them, and they have no recent tournament defeats by any of the other sides lying in wait, and wins over Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark.Given this scenario, Gracenote suggests England's chances of reaching the semi-finals would increase to 35% and their hopes of being in the final would go up to 18%.

Or finish second, and face this route...
What if England draw on Thursday?
A draw would leave both sides with the same number of goals scored and goals conceded and obviously no way of deciding who tops the group on their head-to-head record.The top two positions will then be decided by the number of cards accumulated. England have two yellows and Belgium have picked up three so far.Could we see a foul in the final few minutes determining the group winner?If both teams finish with the same number of bookings, then lots will be drawn to decide the final positions.
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