sport news This is where we find out if Gareth Southgate has what it takes to win the ...

One thing Gareth Southgate has demonstrated since taking over with England is the courage to always make his own decisions.

In choosing to field a weaker team against Belgium, he made a huge one and we are about to see if this is going to gloriously pay dividends or backfire spectacularly.

His selection for that game may yet prove to be a master-stroke but it’s not the approach I would have taken.

Gareth Southgate (L) looks relaxed as he chats to Jordan Henderson (R) ahead of Tuesday's tie

Gareth Southgate (L) looks relaxed as he chats to Jordan Henderson (R) ahead of Tuesday's tie

On Twitter, I wrote before the game: ‘World Cups are all about momentum AND winning your next game. England must prepare and approach this game v Belgium as if it was a knockout match — top the group and then and only then think AND talk about your next opponent. This is such an important game to keep momentum going.’

Instead, the selection sent out the wrong message to opposition nations regardless of what side of the draw England ended up on. Most importantly it sent out the wrong message to the players. 

Perhaps the bubble didn’t completely burst but Southgate and some of the players sounded a little deflated afterwards.

Big tournaments are all about making big statements and keeping other teams in a state of some fear and trepidation and I’m afraid the former coach and patriot in me resurfaced on Thursday night and I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t understand the rationale of what I had just watched.

For Southgate it must have been a curious and distracting situation to find himself in. I have no doubt that secretly he would have preferred to face Belgium in the first or second game and go full gas at each other, leaving one of the other matches to make a few changes and rest a couple of players.

Southgate's selection for the Belgium game sent out the wrong message to opposition nations

Southgate's selection for the Belgium game sent out the wrong message to opposition nations

Instead, Thursday night was the first chance to really test this England team and see how good they are before the highly pressurised knockout stages, regardless of whether Belgium rested key players. There was so much to be gained but that opportunity was squandered.

The thing I am really struggling with, though, is a much bigger point. England have hardly covered themselves in glory in tournaments over the last two decades yet they were wasting time and energy and getting distracted thinking about possible quarter-finals and semi-finals.

Don’t even go there, just win the next match and the next after that. And who on earth ever thought that somehow Colombia would be the easy route, one of the best attacking teams in world football and a side who reached the Olympic quarter-finals? Nobody qualifying for the World Cup last 16 gets lucky.

The one team who will be relishing all this is Colombia — what greater motivation than an England team believing playing them is an easier way to glory!

I would love to be in charge of the Colombia team this week, reminding my players how England don’t respect them. The England players will know this too. Hold on to your hats on Tuesday evening because if England think Sweden or Switzerland is an easier quarter-final, you can bet Colombia do as well.

The one team who will be relishing England's optimism is Colombia ahead of Tuesday's clash

The one team who will be relishing England's optimism is Colombia ahead of Tuesday's clash

Yet who is to say that Southgate might just have called it right? Coaches and teams are judged solely on end outcomes and results and this story is nowhere near over yet.

I can see the upsides. Most of his Gun XI are fresh and well rested since the Panama game, the extra day before the round of 16 may be useful for preparing for what Colombia have to offer and there is less travelling involved.

But I don’t believe fitness is an issue really. In fact I’m impressed with the conditioning of this squad. 

There is no need to use fitness as a reason for resting players — this is the World Cup and your top players should be wanting and able to play every minute. There is no advantage in just giving squad players game time.

I have been amazed how former players used unity in the squad as a reason for Southgate’s selection — well, if this is what creates unity, we have zero chance — unity is simply everyone doing everything that is required of them to win the next match even if that is just carrying the water bottle.

There is no need to use fitness as a reason for resting players — this is the World Cup

There is no need to use fitness as a reason for resting players — this is the World Cup

Tournament sport really comes alive when you reach the knockout stages and what

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