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Everything has broken right for England at this World Cup. It sauntered through a top-heavy group with Belgium, conveniently dropping its final game against the Red Devils in a barely-contested 1-0 loss. Because that put the unappreciated but savvy England manager Gareth Southgate and his team in the soft half of the incredibly lopsided knockout stage bracket.

I saw the paragraph here.

There are a few things that I don't understand from the paragraph.

  1. "sauntered through a top-heavy group with Belgium": What does a top-heavy group mean? Is that top-heavy group referring to Belgium?

  2. "conveniently dropping its final game against the Red Devils in a barely-contested 1-0 loss": Who lost? England or Belgium?

  3. "Because that put the unappreciated but savvy England manager Gareth Southgate and his team in the soft half of the incredibly lopsided knockout stage bracket.": This doesn't look like a complete sentence. What does it mean "in the soft half of the incredibly lopsided knockout stage bracket"?

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1) In the English language, a top-heavy organization has a relatively high amount of powerful members. A top-heavy group in football has more than one strong team involved. In the World Cup, England is in a group with Belgium and Tunisia and Panama. Since England and Belgium are very strong teams, the whole group is thus referred to as top-heavy, meaning it has a large amount of strong teams.

2) "conveniently dropping its last game". This is an ADVERB phrase, which modifies the verb "sauntered" (means walking through). Who did the sauntering? The subject (It) sauntered, which refers to "England". So England dropped the last game against Belgium, which means England lost.

3) This is indeed an incomplete sentence, you are totally right, since there is the subordinating conjunction because, which requires two clauses (before and after the word). Only one is present. Second of all, the knockout bracket is, in football terms, the division of the qualified teams into two halves. The teams in each half play one another until one team is left from each half to face off in the finals. Lopsided means unbalanced, where one side of the bracket is full of strong teams(Brazil, Belgium, France, Uruguay, Argentina, Portugal). The other side of the bracket is relatively easier (England, Croatia, Spain, Sweden). England are in the easier side of the bracket, because of their loss to Belgium, hence they are in the SOFT half of an unbalanced separation.

Hope this helps, glad to clarify anything that isn't clear in my answer!!

  • -1 since, if that's what 'top heavy' meant, it would've meant that England had bad luck. It's patently not what the author meant. – lly Jul 12 '18 at 0:12
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    @Ily That is indeed what top-heavy indicates, and theoretically speaking England’s draw was NOT fortunate prior to the world-cup. However it turned out later that being in a top-heavy group and coming SECOND in the group to belgium is actually advantageous to the English team since they were put in the easier side of the bracket, while Belgium had a harder road to the finals. So yes, the top-heavy group usually is bad-luck, however the author is explaining how this fact turned out to be excellent news for the English. – Confused Soul Jul 12 '18 at 10:31
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    Nope. It's a reasonable interpretation in the absence of more information, but certain not what this author meant in this case. See @Astralbee's better answer for further clarification. – lly Jul 12 '18 at 10:47
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    @Ily On the contrary my answer is from a seasoned football spectator and enthusiast, and I have taken great pains to deliver it in the context of footballing terms, as what is generally agreed upon by pundits conforms to my answer. Check out any bbc articles for clarification. – Confused Soul Jul 12 '18 at 14:38
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    @astralbee I attempt to provide a proto-linguist perspective, prioritizing brevety over extra-contextual analysis. I just hope to have satisfied the asker. – Confused Soul Jul 12 '18 at 14:40
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"sauntered through a top-heavy group with Belgium": what does a top-heavy group mean? is that top-heavy group referring to Belgium?

The first round of the World Cup involved each team playing all teams within their group. England were in a group with Belgium, Panama, Tunisia.

"Sauntered" literally means to "walk casually", so here it is being used metaphorically to imply that the England team easily and casually went through this round of the World Cup.

Something that is "top heavy" is literally heavier at the top than it is at the bottom, which can mean that something is (again, literally) unbalanced. When used figuratively it sometimes just means something is unevenly or unfairly weighted (not necessarily from the "top").

The implication here is that Belgium were the best team in that group and markedly better than everybody else, making the group "top heavy". So yes, Belgium are the "heavy" part of the group.

"conveniently dropping its final game against the Red Devils in a barely-contested 1-0 loss": who lost? England or Belgium?

England lost against Belgium (the "Red Devils"), but that didn't matter to England's progress in the World Cup as a whole because they had already scored enough wins/points in all the other matches in this round to go through to the next.

The loss to Belgium was "convenient" because if England had beaten them it would have meant the next round would have been more difficult. Some even suggest that a deliberate loss was a good tactical move in the competition.

Had England beaten Belgium, they would have faced Japan in the last 16 and then Brazil in the quarter-finals, whereas coming second meant they play Colombia and then whoever won the Sweden vs Switzerland match. (Sweden won.) England has lost to Brazil in previous World Cup matches.

"Because that put the unappreciated but savvy England manager Gareth Southgate and his team in the soft half of the incredibly lopsided knockout stage bracket.": this sentence doesn't look like a complete sentence. What does it mean "in the soft half of the incredibly lopsided knockout stage bracket"?

You're right, it isn't a complete sentence; it's a technical mistake that breaks up a longer sentence for effect. It really follows on from the thought of the previous sentence. It would have been better phrased:

...conveniently dropping its final game against the Red Devils in a barely-contested 1-0 loss, putting the unappreciated but savvy England manager Gareth Southgate and his team in the soft half of the incredibly lopsided knockout stage bracket.

This really reiterates my answer to your second question about why their loss against Belgium was "convenient". It placed England in a knockout stage that was much easier to win in. Interestingly they use the word "lopsided" here, which is similar to "top-heavy", but better describes something with just two adjacent sides where one is heavier (or lower) than the other. The "soft half" describes the side with the weaker teams in it.

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    The "top heavy" comment probably refers to both England and Belgium as the top half of the group of four teams. – Jasper Jul 11 '18 at 17:06
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    @Jasper It's not what the author meant, since they're praising England's luck, not skill. They simply mean England was lucky solely because the set was so unbalanced: Belgium was much, much better than the other teams that England faced. – lly Jul 12 '18 at 0:16
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    @Astralbee Your answer is excellent and thorough enough to make other responses needless but it's a bit on the long side. Hope you don't mind the bolding to draw attention to the most important bits, for scanning readers. – lly Jul 12 '18 at 0:22
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    @Ily The answer is indeed excellent and thourough, however to say other points of view are unnecessary is rather on the hard side against discussion and seeing the jewel from all its faces, would you not agree :-) ? – Confused Soul Jul 12 '18 at 10:36
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    @ConfusedSoul I'd never write a needlessly long answer when a short one would suffice. I felt in this case that the original quotation about which the OP was asking for help contained a lot of idioms, and isn't particularly well-written. I thought it best to explain all idioms not just the ones the OP asked about, because as you know the answer to one question can often lead to another. – Astralbee Jul 12 '18 at 11:48

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