For Gareth Southgate and England, the World Cup starts now

AL KHOR, Qatar – England and Gareth Southgate are now down to business.

After a tense opening 30 minutes against Senegal, the African champions were dealt with in the round of 16 with minimal fuss and now comes the stage of the World Cup where the big players can’t avoid each other.

England’s reward for Sunday’s 3-0 win at the Al Bayt Stadium – thanks to goals from Jordan Henderson, Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka – is a quarter-final game against France on Saturday at the same stadium. It’s a date with Kylian Mbappe who has the tournament “of his dreams” with five goals in four games but also with history.

Because if England are to progress they must do something they have never done before – win a knockout game against a great nation outside of Wembley Stadium.

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Getting into tournaments is not new to Southgate, having reached the semifinals of the World Cup in 2018 and the final of the European Championships in 2021.

But both times the draw was opened, allowing England to reach the last four in Russia by beating Colombia and Sweden before eventually losing to Croatia. The other side of the group included Portugal, Argentina, Brazil and eventual winners France.

Similarly, at the European Championships, England ended up in a group alongside Sweden, Ukraine, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Wales and Denmark, with Belgium, Portugal, France, Spain and Italy playing on the other side.

Southgate’s team beat Germany (at Wembley Stadium) and then played Ukraine and Denmark for a place in the final, where they lost to Italy on penalties.

It’s not Southgate’s fault, of course, that recent draws have been friendly, but there’s little doubt that playing holders France on foreign soil is a step forward in either campaign.

“It’s the biggest test we could face,” Southgate said. “They are world champions. They have incredible talent with outstanding individual players. It’s a fantastic challenge and a brilliant game to prepare for. The two quarter-finals we’ve already played are historic football rivalries and great matches.” from the past. It’s a great game for us to compete in and compete with the best.”

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Luis Echegaray is impressed by Jude Bellingham’s performance as England beat Senegal in the last 16.

The build-up will be dominated by questions of how to stop Mbappe, who scored twice in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Poland.

It will likely catch the attention of France coach Didier Deschamps that Harry Maguire got off to a particularly awkward start against Senegal, looking unnerved by the early pressure and pace.

It might have been a different story for Senegal had Boulaye Dia not seen a good chance Jordan Pickford would have saved well with the score 0-0 but after England scored twice in 10 minutes at the end of the first half it was game over as competition.

France won’t be as accommodating and a lot will come down to Southgate and his team picks. He has deployed a back four since arriving in Qatar but will be tempted to switch to a back five against France, partly to protect Maguire and John Stones from Mbappe’s frantic pace. That would mean Kyle Walker playing as a third centre-back and Kieran Trippier coming into play as a right-back.

There’s a feeling that Southgate only likes to play with four defenders when he knows England will dominate the ball and that’s not a given against a French side who also want to play up front.

Whatever his decision, Southgate can at least take heart that he’s on the right track with his wide selection so far. He picked Henderson over Mason Mount and Saka over the in-form Marcus Rashford against Senegal and both finished on the scorers’ list.

“Mbappe is a world-class player and has had great moments in this tournament and in previous tournaments,” said Southgate.

“There are also [Antoine] Griezmann and he’s a phenomenal player. There’s Olivier Giroud, who we know so well, and they have some outstanding young midfielders, so they have incredible talent everywhere. It’s a huge test, but one we’re looking forward to and a great challenge for our team.”

When England meet the big guns away at the business end of a major tournament, a plane ticket home usually follows.

The list of departures since winning the 1966 World Cup is West Germany (1970 World Cup), Argentina (1986 World Cup), West Germany (1990 World Cup), Argentina (1998 World Cup), Brazil (2002 World Cup), Portugal (2004 Euro), Portugal (2004 World Cup). 2006), Germany (WM 2010) and Italy (EM 2012). If France is not to be added to that list, Southgate will need to figure out how best to stop Mbappe, among other issues raised by the current world champions.

England have been in Qatar for almost three weeks but the real work is only just beginning.

https://www.espn.com/soccer/england-eng/story/4825637/for-gareth-southgate-and-england-world-cup-starts-now For Gareth Southgate and England, the World Cup starts now

Emma Bowman

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