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Five key decisions Southgate got right as England become World Cup believers

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WELL, that’s a sixth win in the knockout stages of a major tournament for Gareth Southgate.

Not bad, when you consider England had managed just two wins in the previous EIGHT tournament going back to France 1998.

Jordan Henderson rewarded Southgate's decision to ignore criticism by picking the Liverpool midfielder over the more attacking Mason Mount

But here in northern Qatar last night, with temperatures of 22C, we could not have hoped for a more pleasant stroll into the World Cup quarter-finals.

We can forget the same thing happening on Sunday evening when France arrive at the Al Bayt Stadium, a huge stadium built in the shape of a traditional Bedouin tent in the middle of nowhere.

Equally, the French know they will face one hell of a fight against an increasingly exciting team which appears to be reaching its peak.

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For that, you have to give Southgate some credit, who was managing England for the 80th time against Senegal.

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Who knows whether he would have been in charge here in the Middle East had Sam Allardyce not been caught out by a fake sheikh.

Yet he has moulded a team which is now playing with freedom but without fear – and a strong belief they can win the World Cup.

Most importantly, Southgate, despite all the flak he gets, has got the big calls right.

And five bold decisions in particular have been decisive in decisive in Qatar so far.

DROPPING RASHFORD

There would have been a few groans among those in the pubs and clubs in England when it was confirmed that Marcus Rashford,  having already scored three times, dropped back to the bench.

Rashford would have been shattered, in absolute pieces, when told that he was not starting.

Yet Southgate decided that with Raheem Sterling unavailable, both Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka would have provide the intelligence, workrate and quality to eventually unpick the Senegal defence.

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BACKING HENDERSON AHEAD OF MOUNT

Equally, bringing in Jordan Henderson instead of Mason Mount after the first two games has been the right call.

Henderson is a winner, having taken Liverpool to three Champions League finals, knows all about these big occasions and Jude Bellingham can only benefit playing alongside him.

More surprisingly was the fact Henderson popped up with only his third international goal in his 73 appearances.

There has been this joke on social media about his love for Mount but right now, the Chelsea midfielder has found himself dumped.

Jordan Henderson has become a key figure

TAKING BELLINGHAM OFF VS USA

There is not a manager in the world who would not pick Bellingham so you cannot give him any credit for that.

But he was right to take Bellingham off when he was playing badly against the States and during the past, there has been times when he has decided against throwing the Dortmund teenager into the action.

Jude Bellingham had another outstanding game for England

STICKING WITH MAGUIRE

At the back, Southgate was obviously right to ignore the noise – and there had been a lot of it – and stick with Harry Maguire at the back.

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Maguire delivered some dodgy passes as England’s defence wobbled in the first half but he has still been one of England’s better players.

Harry Maguire had another influential game

RECALLING WALKER FOR TRIPPIER

And then Southgate also showed a heart of steel to axe Kieran Trippier after a couple of average, albeit not terrible performances, against Iran and the States.

Kyle Walker has benefitted and what a tournament he is enjoying, when you consider he was a major doubt for the World Cup after he needed a groin operation against Manchester United on October 2.

Right-back Walker has not looked rusty whatsoever since returning to the side against Wales and did well last night to keep Ismaila Sarr quiet. Obviously, though, Walker will have been on a different level in the last eight against a certain Mr Mbappe.

Regardless of the opposition, to concede just two goals in four games is outstanding and one of them was a dodgy penalty.

Many people will make France favourites for Saturday and understandably so. They are the world champions and have a much better pedigree.

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Equally,  over these next few days, Southgate will have a sheer bloody-minded belief he can record knockstage stage win No 7.

And then, it really will be game on.

England enjoyed 65% possession and had eight attempts at goal

Source: The Sun

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