STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Theresa May's surprise World Cup gift

British PM Theresa May had an impromptu gift given to her at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday by the Belgian PM - a Belgium football shirt.

Posted: Jun 29, 2018 2:29 AM
Updated: Jun 29, 2018 2:31 AM

Sometimes winning isn't everything.

Just ask football fans from England and Belgium, many of whom would rather their team loses Thursday night's Group G encounter.

Both countries have already guaranteed qualification for the World Cup's round of 16, courtesy of victories against group stage rivals Panama and Tunisia.

What's at stake is which team takes top spot -- a position that would traditionally ensure an easier path through the latter reaches of the tournament.

Except this time around, with many of the big teams underperforming, and one half of the draw stacked with dangerous opposition, it's actually the reverse that's true.

While the winner will potentially have to face the likes of Brazil and France en route to the final, the losing team could make it all the way to Luzhniki Stadium on July 15 having only overcome Sweden and Denmark in the quarterfinals and last four.

READ: Germany crashes out of World Cup group stages

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez certainly seemed tempted by the proposition in his pre-match press conference, openly admitting victory against England wasn't his chief concern.

"We have qualified and that was the priority," said Martinez. "Now we need to look at our individual players. We want to perform well but the priority is not to win. That is the reality, we have put ourselves in this situation, we wanted to qualify and we have done that."

Martinez, who has already said he will rest all-time top scorer Romelu Lukaku, added: "I think tomorrow's a celebration.

"Two teams can celebrate being qualified for the knockout phase."

England boss Gareth Southgate was more pragmatic, though his words could later be seen as naïve should a beaten Belgium breeze through to the final.

"We have no idea who, when or where we will play," said Southgate, stressing the dangers of plotting a path through a tournament that has already thrown up no shortage of major shocks. "We're just pleased we're in the next round."

After all, any projections would be rendered immediately and embarrassingly irrelevant, should the two sides fail to overcome their last 16 opponents: either Japan or Colombia.

"We've not won a knockout game since 2006," shrugged Southgate. "So, why we are starting to plot which would be a better venue for our semifinal is beyond me really."

'Winning mentality'

According to sports data company Gracenote, Southgate's men have a 24% chance of reaching the last four should they emerge as group winners, but a 35% chance should they finish second.

But the other side of the argument is that the value of instilling a "winning mentality" and generating "momentum" cannot be underestimated.

"We're building a team that everyone back home can see are passionate to play for England, that want to win every time they go out and are improving every time," stressed Southgate.

"We want to win. That would mean we top the group and then we can move forward. I go back to the fact we're trying to develop a winning mentality and I can't imagine a situation where I talk to the players about anything else. It just wouldn't be authentic for what we've been trying to build for the last two years."

While it is indeed hard to envisage a manager instructing his team to lose, it's not without precedent.

The winners of an infamous 1998 Tiger Cup group stage contest between Thailand and Indonesia would have to face relative powerhouse Vietnam in the next round while the losers would face the apparently weaker Singapore. As a result, both teams tried to throw the match.

With the score level at 2-2 and time running out, Indonesia's Mursyid Effendi turned and deliberately kicked the ball into his own net to ensure defeat.

Both teams were fined $40,000 by governing body FIFA for "violating the spirit of the game." Effendi was banned from international football for life.

Should England and Belgium play to win or lose? Have your say on CNN Sport's Facebook page or on Twitter using the hashtag #CNNWorldCu

And there's further warning signs for Belgium and England, should they be plotting any foul play in the pursuit of eventual glory. Both Thailand and Indonesia lost their semifinals anyway.

Singapore, the underdog, went on to lift the trophy.

Fair play?

While both sides are unlikely to be so brazen, one outcome that could occur at the Kaliningrad Stadium Thursday is a draw.

And given both sides are level on points, goal difference and goals scored, top spot would be then decided by fair play.

In such a scenario, whichever team accumulates the most cards over the course of the group stage would finish second. So could we see a foul in the dying stages end up determining the destiny of these footballing nations?

Players deliberately getting booked isn't all that unusual, according to former referee Mark Halsey, who officiated in the Premier League for 14 years and was in charge for numerous high-profile international fixtures.

Halsey recalls a Premier League game from 2011 when a player approached him quite literally asking for a yellow card.

"He's just said 'listen, look, we've got a game Tuesday. If I don't get cautioned now and get one Tuesday, I'll miss the big derby on the Saturday," Halsey told CNN.

"So he just asked me if I could show a yellow. And I did actually.

"I said to him, 'Alright, we've got 10 minutes to go, when I give a free-kick against you' -- and I knew I would because he's that sort of player -- 'just leather the ball 50 yards away and I can caution you for dissent.'

Visit CNN.com/sport for more news and features

"If you've got big games coming up and you're on four yellow cards, one more means you get suspended. I just said to him, 'Don't do nothing stupid.'

"He came up to me at the end of the game and said, 'Thanks for that Mark.'"

Huntsville
Broken Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 81°
Florence
Few Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 81°
Fayetteville
Overcast
77° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 79°
Decatur
Overcast
76° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 76°
Scottsboro
Broken Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 73°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 91776

Reported Deaths: 1639
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson12186230
Mobile9269204
Montgomery6350148
Madison512227
Tuscaloosa400269
Baldwin332223
Shelby311932
Marshall300134
Unassigned287856
Lee255442
Morgan227015
Etowah196728
DeKalb172113
Elmore163337
Calhoun162713
Walker147964
Houston133412
Dallas129823
Russell12672
St. Clair125214
Limestone122713
Franklin121520
Cullman117112
Colbert112213
Lauderdale111113
Autauga103021
Escambia98115
Talladega94613
Jackson8904
Chambers83238
Tallapoosa82778
Dale79823
Butler75435
Blount7453
Chilton7386
Coffee7255
Covington71620
Pike6727
Barbour5645
Lowndes56124
Marion54724
Marengo52914
Clarke4919
Hale45926
Bullock44411
Winston43511
Perry4324
Wilcox41110
Monroe3964
Randolph39210
Bibb3844
Pickens3769
Conecuh37310
Sumter36018
Lawrence3251
Macon31613
Washington31512
Crenshaw3073
Choctaw27612
Cherokee2497
Greene24711
Henry2473
Geneva2430
Clay2255
Lamar2052
Fayette1785
Cleburne1211
Coosa952
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 114098

Reported Deaths: 1144
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby21924298
Davidson19812208
Rutherford625453
Hamilton580347
Knox418638
Williamson336322
Sumner326471
Unassigned29285
Out of TN279314
Wilson215223
Montgomery178113
Bradley177112
Sevier17636
Putnam164613
Trousdale15766
Robertson147519
Hamblen131113
Blount11868
Tipton11379
Washington11142
Maury11077
Madison95714
Bedford89011
Sullivan85911
Macon84713
Hardeman84312
Lake7580
Loudon6863
Bledsoe6741
Fayette6468
Anderson6376
Dickson6301
Gibson6152
Dyer5797
Cheatham5546
Rhea5141
Jefferson5133
McMinn49820
Lawrence4976
Henderson4830
Obion4644
Warren4544
Carter4525
Coffee4482
Lauderdale4457
Hardin4267
Cocke4212
Haywood4145
Greene3986
Roane3982
Cumberland3976
Smith3933
Hawkins3915
Monroe3809
Giles36012
McNairy3355
Weakley3293
DeKalb3261
Franklin2964
Marshall2713
Lincoln2591
Carroll2513
Crockett2464
Hickman2400
Claiborne2350
White2323
Henry2310
Campbell2241
Wayne2222
Johnson2140
Marion2104
Chester2012
Grainger1810
Polk1813
Decatur1742
Overton1411
Unicoi1410
Union1330
Cannon1310
Humphreys1133
Benton1111
Jackson1091
Scott1050
Grundy1042
Meigs990
Sequatchie960
Morgan941
Perry770
Fentress760
Hancock761
Stewart720
Clay660
Lewis621
Houston540
Moore530
Van Buren330
Pickett271

Community Events