World Cup: More belief now, says Southgate of England
DOHA – England have greater expectation than when they reached the World Cup semi-finals four years ago, manager Gareth Southgate said as he looked ahead to Sunday’s last-16 clash with Senegal.
His side swept into the knockout phase as Group B winners on Tuesday with Marcus Rashford’s double and a Phil Foden effort seeing them to a 3-0 victory over Wales.
“There is a different mentality about the whole group. There’s more belief. Our objectives are different,” Southgate, whose side have banged in nine goals in three games in Qatar, told reporters.
“In Russia, we were just thinking about ‘Could we win a knockout game?‘ There’s more expectation now, more confidence and more experience of big matches.”
England’s run to the semis in Russia was something of a surprise as pre-tournament expectations were modest but their runners-up finish at Euro 2020 and the fact Southgate boasts one of the deepest squads at the World Cup makes his side one of the favourites in Qatar.
“To this point we’re really pleased and, of course, the big business starts now really,” he said.
Southgate is known for his loyalty to the players that have served him so well, but made four changes to his starting line-up on Tuesday against Wales and he will have a welcome selection headache ahead of Senegal.
Rashford, who was given his first England start for 18 months, took his tally to a joint tournament-leading three, while Foden justified the clamour for his inclusion with a goal in a display full of attacking threat.
Harry Kane, who remains on 51 goals for England, two behind the record of Wayne Rooney, is yet to score at the tournament as England prove they can thrive even without his goals.
Southgate has given game time to the majority of his 26-man squad with the only outfield players yet to appear being James Maddison, Conor Gallagher, Conor Coady and Ben White.
With no yellow cards and a fully-fit squad to choose from, the England boss has an enviable array of options as the tournament reaches its sharp end.
“You want those sorts of decisions,” he said. “We need strength in depth. You just never know when we’re going to need that depth.”
England will start as big favourites against a Senegal side missing injured striker Sadio Mane but they have impressed in reaching the last 16 with wins over Qatar and Ecuador.
“We know that on the rankings we’ll be favourites. We’ve got to deal with that. But we play a very dangerous team,” Southgate added.
Meanwhile, Wales captain Gareth Bale vowed to keep playing for the national team amid doubts over his future after they were knocked out of the World Cup. The USA are the other team in Group B who advanced after their 1-0 win over Iran.
Returning to the World Cup after 64 years, Wales ended the tournament on one point, finishing bottom of the group following a 1-1 draw with the Americans in their opening game and a disappointing 2-0 defeat by Iran in the second match.
Bale, 33, was anonymous in attack in the first half against England before coach Rob Page had to substitute him at the break due to a hamstring issue.
“I’ll keep going as long as I can and as long as I’m wanted,” Wales’ most-capped player told the BBC.
“It’s a difficult moment now obviously but we go again.
“We have a (European Championship) qualifying campaign starting now again in March and we have a few months to get away from international football now which is obviously disappointing, we’d love to stay longer.” - REUTERS