England, Belgium must finish runners-up to avoid possible Brazil meeting
England and Belgium know that they must finish runners-up in Group G if they are to avoid a possible quarterfinal meeting with Brazil.
The two European sides go into the final group match with identical records, and the winners of the group, should they get through the round of 16, will face the winners of Brazil and Mexico.
The runners-up in the group, however, will fall onto the other side of the bracket and face either Sweden or Switzerland in the last eight -- on paper at least a more favourable path to the final.
GROUP G WINNERS
Round of 16: Japan (61)
Quarterfinals: Mexico (15) or Brazil (2)
Semifinals: Uruguay (14), Portugal (4), France (7) or Argentina (5)
(Cumulative FIFA rankings: 108)
GROUP G RUNNERS-UP
Round of 16: Colombia (16)
Quarterfinals: Sweden (24) or Switzerland (6)
Semifinals: Spain (10), Russia (70), Croatia (20) or Denmark (12)
(Cumulative FIFA rankings: 158)
Besides the relative ease of opponents, the group runners-up will play their round of 16 matchup on Tuesday, giving them an extra 24 hours rest compared to the group winners, who play on Monday.
Of course, fans of both Belgium and England could be accused of getting carried away. After all, they must negotiate a round-of-16 tie against one of Colombia or Japan before they get to the quarterfinals.
With points, goal difference and goals scored even through the first two games, England are atop the group only by virtue of receiving one fewer yellow card. The winners of the game are guaranteed to top the group, but if the match finishes as a draw the places will be decided first on fair play.
England's fair play score is -2 and Belgum's -3. FIFA deducts points from the fair play ranking based on the following criteria (each player can score minus points in one category in a game):
Yellow card: minus-1
Red card for two cautions: minus-3
Straight red card: minus-4
Yellow card and straight red card: minus-5
If the two teams also finish level on fair play, FIFA will decide the positions by a random draw, which Republic of Ireland and Netherlands had to do in 1990. The Irish were drawn second and the Dutch third.
A drawing of lots would take place straight after the game in the press conference room at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow at 11 p.m. local time (9 p.m. BST, 4 p.m. ET), held by the Organising Committee, and streamed on FIFA's media channels. That means neither Gareth Southgate nor Roberto Martinez would be present.
Dale Johnson has been an editor and journalist at ESPN for 18 years. You can follow him on Twitter @dalejohnsonESPN.