Belfast Telegraph

England can go a long way at World Cup, says Martin O'Neill

By Kevin Palmer

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill believe a huge opportunity could be presented to Gareth Southgate and his England side in what he describes as the most open World Cup finals in recent memory.

England take on Belgium in a battle to decide the winners of Group D on Thursday evening, with the team that finishes second in the pool likely to have a more favourable route to the quarter-finals of a competition that has yet to identify a clear favourite.

Even though England have won just two knock-out matches at the World Cup since their run to the semi-finals in the 1990 World Cup, O'Neill told ITV Sport that they could be a dark horse to enjoy a long run in this year's competition.

"I have really enjoyed the tournament so far, but I have to say that no team has been special so far," stated O'Neill.

"It doesn't matter whether you are Brazil or Saudi Arabia, you go into a competition and try to get out of your group first and foremost and then there is a massive relief.

"For a country like Denmark, getting out of their group is a great achievement, but there are other teams who have designs on actually winning the tournament.

"You are thinking quarter-final, semi-final and I think that someone, including England, is going to have a huge opportunity."

A runners-up spot in Group G would ensure England avoid a potential quarter-final with Brazil, yet Gary Neville insists Southgate's side cannot play to lose against Belgium.

"England are incapable of thinking that way (losing against Belgium)," says the former England full-back. "From Belgium's point of view, if the rumours are true and they are resting ten players in this game, they are thinking they want to get into the other half of the draw and avoid Brazil, Uruguay, France, Argentina and Portugal.

"There is a saying in football that you have to beat everyone to win it, but if you can avoid the major battles, you avoid them."

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