Belgium game a 'perfect dress rehearsal' for England, insists Carragher

Jamie Carragher feels England has the chance to earn a statement win at the World Cup when it faces Belgium.

Former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher   -  Julian Finney/Getty Images

England should forget about its potential opponents in the knockout rounds at the World Cup and focus only on beating Belgium, according to Jamie Carragher.

Gareth Southgate's side booked its place in the last 16 of the tournament on Sunday by crushing Panama 6-1 in Nizhny Novgorod.

Captain Harry Kane grabbed a hat-trick in the rout, sending the Tottenham striker clear in the race for the Golden Boot after he also scored both goals in the 2-1 win over Tunisia.

England ends its Group G campaign against fellow qualifier Belgium on Thursday, with the two nations knowing the winners in Kaliningrad will finish top of the table.

And Carragher - who was in England's squads for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups - believes the fixture offers the perfect opportunity to make a statement in Russia.

"This can be the perfect dress rehearsal," the former Liverpool defender wrote in his column for the Telegraph.

"It might be that finishing below Belgium creates what appears to be a more 'favourable' draw, avoiding Brazil or Germany in the last eight. Equally, the group's top side may avoid a tricky last-16 meeting with Senegal, who include Sadio Mane and Ismaila Sarr, or impressive Colombia. 

"What looks more desirable does not always work that way – have we forgotten the pre-match optimism before Iceland two years ago?

"England must plot their route by trying to win against Belgium rather than half-heartedly accepting a defeat, or waiting to see if the fair-play table decides the placing.

"I want to see England adopt the mentality they will need against tougher opponents in the knockout stage. How often have we seen the side settle into a holding pattern where extra-time or penalties loom?

"Even if a draw is working to England’s advantage, there is a chance to experiment with more tactical drills with regards protecting a result. Imagine the belief in the players if their courage secures a positive outcome again Belgium. Confidence will soar."

England may be pitted against Colombia, Japan or Senegal in the next round, with heavyweights Germany and Brazil looming large as potential opponents in the quarterfinals.

Yet Carragher feels the previous successes enjoyed by Premier League clubs in Europe - with his old team Liverpool reaching the Champions League final in the 2017-18 season - provides Southgate and his players with the blueprint to succeed when cast in the role of underdogs.

"Unlike so many of our club teams in the Champions League, England have failed to show they can upset the odds when meeting higher-ranked sides," he continued.

"For all the encouragement correctly taken from the first two World Cup games this season, that is the next albatross for Southgate's side to remove."