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Fresh feats back up England optimism

Southgate. PHOTO FIFA.COM

With more group-stage goals than any past England side and 10 tournament wins under their manager, English confidence looks justified entering the last 16.

Doha, Qatar | FIFA.COM | There have been many times down the years when English expectations have been exposed as unfounded and overblown in the white heat of tournament action. Yet the way England have come through the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ group stage, leaving records tumbling in their wake, highlights once more the substance of Gareth Southgate’s side.

“Why should we not be feared?” said Declan Rice as he looked ahead to Sunday’s round of 16 match with Senegal – and the statistical evidence shows he has a point.

Southgate closes in on Ramsey

England’s 3-0 victory over Wales in their last Group B fixture was Southgate’s sixth win (including penalty shoot-outs) at a World Cup as England manager. This took him beyond Bobby Robson and Sven-Goran Eriksson (five apiece) and leaves him just one win behind England’s 1966 World Cup-winning manager Alf Ramsey. With the victory over Wales, which sealed the nation’s place at the summit of Group B, Southgate also became the first England manager to amass ten victories (including penalty shoot-outs) at major tournaments, from just 17 games.

Goals galore

So far at this year’s tournament Southgate has stuck with a more attacking 4-3-3 formation. At Russia 2018 it was a 3-5-2 while at UEFA EURO 2020 he used both a back three and back four. He also used both in this year’s UEFA Nations League matches. In Qatar, however, it has been 4-3-3 for each game so far and England ended the group stage with nine goals – a number only matched by Spain, leaving the Three Lions at the top of the first-round scoring chart for the first time. It also breaks the nation’s previous record of eight goals from four years ago, while a plus-seven goal difference is a new personal best.

Back on top

England enter the next round as one of five unbeaten sides at the tournament. You have to go back to South Africa 2010 for the last time an England team were unbeaten at this stage, as Fabio Capello’s men accrued draws with USA and Algeria and a victory over Slovenia. But they still finished as runners-up in Group C that year behind USA, meaning Qatar 2022 is the first time England have finished top of the group and with seven points since Germany 2006 when they beat Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago and drew with Sweden before defeating Ecuador and then losing on penalties to Portugal in the quarter-final.

Pickford continues to shine

Jordan Pickford was one of England’s star players when they reached the semi-finals four years ago and he is impressing once again at Qatar 2022. Despite only facing seven shots on target from his opening trio of games, the 28-year-old has made several terrific saves, including fingertip efforts against IR Iran and USA to deny Sardar Azmoun and Christian Pulisic respectively. The clean sheet against Wales was the Everton goalkeeper’s third at the World Cup and eighth at major tournaments, EUROs included, bringing him level with David Seaman. He still has some way to go to match Peter Shilton’s record of ten World Cup shut-outs – a distinction shared with France’s Fabien Barthez.

What next?

England will continue their quest for a second World Cup trophy on Sunday against Senegal, when Southgate will look to join Ramsey on seven World Cup victories from the dug-out. Harry Kane will continue his search for his first goal of this tournament – and to move closer to Wayne Rooney’s all-time England goal-scoring record of 53 (from his current tally of 51). Meanwhile, Pickford will be looking to become the first England custodian to claim three consecutive World Cup clean sheets since David Seaman in 2002.

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SOURCE: FIFA.COM

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