England’s first defeat at the World Cup was met with divided opinion in the British media, with some satisfied by it achieving potentially easier route deeper into the tournament while others rued the loss of momentum.
Adnan Januzaj’s second-half goal condemned Gareth Southgate’s side to a 1-0 defeat in Kaliningrad on Thursday, as they set up a tricky last 16 tie with Colombia on Tuesday while Group G winners Belgium face Japan.
Beyond that the road looks less perilous for England with a potential quarter-final against Sweden or Switzerland, while Belgium are surrounded by former champions Brazil, France and Argentina in the other half of the draw.
“Well played lads!,” the Sun newspaper declared as on its front page as it congratulated the players for securing an “easier route to World Cup glory”.
The Daily Telegraph chose to “look on the bright side” having avoided pre-tournament favorites Brazil in the quarter-finals but added some fans may question Southgate’s decision to make wholesale changes to the starting line-up.
England made eight changes to the team who crushed Panama 6-1 but the uninspiring performance against Belgium highlighted that their options on the bench are not as rich as believed.
The Times’ chief football writer Henry Winter said the result was a “wake up call” for England, who lacked the creative spark through the middle of the park without their injured play-maker Dele Alli and said that few of the squad players given an opportunity made much of an impression.
“Southgate gambled here,” said BBC’s chief football writer Phil McNulty. “The outcome of this throw of the dice will be known on Tuesday.”
Former England international Gary Neville has called on the supporters to be more positive than ever, but said the defeat served as a reality check for Southgate’s squad.
“Not that England have lost tonight but that there were players in that Belgium second XI that would be in our first XI,” he told ITV.
“That’s the reality check.”