LONDON, United Kingdom, Jul 2 – England manager Gareth Southgate has risked ratcheting up World Cup last 16 opponents Colombia’s motivation by fielding a B team in their last group game believing that would earn them an easier route to the final, warns England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward.
England earned the right to play the Colombians on Tuesday after a 1-0 loss to Belgium last Thursday to finish runners-up in their group.
Woodward takes issue with the selection policy of Southgate — although his Belgian counterpart Roberto Martinez also made sweeping changes — but is more staggered by another facet of the thinking behind the policy.
“The thing I am really struggling with, though, is a much bigger point,” he wrote in the Daily Mail on Monday.
“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.”
Woodward drew on his experience of a tough first knockout stage match in the 2003 World Cup with Wales, after taking their pedal off the gas for their final two pool matches, to illustrate to Southgate the perils of tinkering with winning line-ups and taking the sharpness off the first team players.
“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!
– ‘zero chance’ –
“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.”
Woodward, said there is no need to play players as Southgate did against Belgium to sew unity within the squad.
“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,” said Wodoward.
“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.”
On the plus side, though, Woodward says Southgate has got his patriotic juices flowing like no previous England football manager.
“This is the World Cup knockout stages and, despite Belgium, I haven’t been so excited about an England manager and his group of players for a long time,” said Woodward.
“They have built a genuine connection with the country and the opportunity of a lifetime is still there.
“But there is no hiding place, this is when champion teams find a way of winning. I can’t wait.”
Only Woodward and the late Alf Ramsey who managed England to 1966 World Cup success, have delivered a global trophy for the country that introduced the rest of the world to cricket, rugby and football.