MARTIN SAMUEL: Gareth Southgate’s team have an identity and philosophy no matter who plays

There was a scare this week, around Harry Kane. A strange kind of scare, really, because it wasn’t scary.

Kane, England’s captain and talisman, suffered an injury to his ankle. He went for scans, he was in a lot of pain, there was a very real danger he could be out of Friday’s match with the United States, and perhaps even longer. And it wasn’t considered a calamity.

It mattered, of course it mattered. Kane is England’s best goalscorer and their leader. He didn’t score against Iran on Monday, but his influence was everywhere. He made two goals – the first England player at a World Cup to do so since David Beckham in 2006 – and his movement created space for others. Kane remains a hugely influential and important player.

It’s just that, without him, we’ll live. No Kane, no crisis any more. It never used to be like that. Sven Goran Eriksson often spoke as if, without Wayne Rooney, England might as well board the bus for the airport. After the 2010 tournament, Fabio Capello felt his plans could be ruined by a Joe Hart injury.

‘I think it comes down to identity,’ wrote Harry Redknapp in his 2013 autobiography. ‘We don’t have any. We’ve bumbled along, a hundred different systems, are we kicking it, are we passing it?’

And then in walked Gareth Southgate. If there is a reason the thought of being without Kane in Al Khor this evening did not fill the country with trepidation, it is because the manager has instilled a philosophy, a way of playing that endures.

Marcus Rashford, perhaps Callum Wilson, would fill in for Kane and the rest of the team would stay the same.

Not that England are one-dimensional. A back four becomes a back five, 4-3-3 becomes 3-4-3, there are tweaks and nuances. Yet the confusion Redknapp spoke about, those teams who knocked it aimlessly around at the back one moment, launched it towards a combative frontman the next, those days have gone.

Southgate’s England could ride the challenge of a game without Kane. He has built a group who are, for once, more than the sum of their parts.

Southgate sat at England’s training camp at Al Wakrah, a municipality south of Doha, on Thursday. Before the game with Iran he was wearing trainers emblazoned with the message ‘anything is possible’ but these had been changed.

Perhaps he felt less need for motivational mantras once England won their first game 6-2. Anyway, the trainers were unadorned, as was Southgate’s appraisal of his team. He is honest about where England are now, and where they were even 18 months ago, en route to the European Championship finals.

‘I see more of our attacking players in a better moment than they were in the Euros,’ he said. ‘I know people talked a lot about the depth we had then, but I didn’t see that for some of the squad. They were not in those really good moments when you were looking to make changes. There were some who were there, but not all.

‘Now, I’m looking at training and it’s at a really good level among the group and they’re making my decisions harder. If there’s an injury to a player now, I’m always thinking, “OK, who’s the next one in?”. I see it as an opportunity for someone else.’

Not that Kane, Rashford and Wilson are interchangeable. More that England are no longer susceptible to the vagaries of misfortune at a tournament. In 2004, when Rooney limped out of the European Championship quarter-final with Portugal, Eriksson’s response was ruinously conservative.

At the World Cup two years later, he waited desperately for the same player to be declared fit and was rewarded with the performance of a man who should have remained on a treatment table.

Compare this to Southgate now. Reece James left at home; Kyle Walker left out of the team until Southgate feels certain of his recovery – he may get some minutes on Friday night, depending on the state of the game, so too Kalvin Phillips. Kane? He is almost certain to start but won’t be risked if there is any suggestion of the ankle weakening. It would be a brave decision to leave him out, said Southgate.

‘Harry’s a special player,’ added Southgate. ‘Everybody will focus on his goals but the quality of his build-up play the other day for Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford was exceptional. We’re blessed to have him.

‘Equally, what we’ve tried to do from the very start was not put all the onus on him as captain, whether that’s media duties, or whatever else it might be, to spread the load, give people more responsibility.

‘We have now got more depth, while not wanting to diminish what Harry brings us. I guess at the highest level it’s got to be proved that we can maintain without him, but we would always have to adapt and we’ve got to make sure we are able to do that.

‘In the end it’s delivering on this sort of stage which is key. We’ve got good depth, we’ve got people who are going to push the players who started the other day. They knew that if they don’t perform there’s somebody behind them who’s ready to come in and is hungry and at a good level. Sometimes that is the motivation as much as what I might say to a player. They know there’s someone to come in and take their place. So far, we’ve seen a really good version of a number of our players.’

Undoubtedly, the US represent a sterner test than Iran. They are an energetic, high pressing side who will afford considerably less time on the ball. Asked whether there was a danger England could underestimate their opponents having started so well, Southgate almost snorted his derision.

‘Have we ever beaten the United States at a World Cup?’ he queried. He knew the answer, obviously. P2 D1 L1. ‘We’re very good at this, talking highly of ourselves despite there being very little evidence to back it up.

‘Look, we’re going to have to be at our best. The mistake would be to think because we played well we’re just going to go through. We have now got to press the reset button, and we won’t be underestimating them at all.’

It would be wrong and patronising to classify tonight’s opponents as minnows anyway. Saudi Arabia may still have that status by wider comparison, but countries like the US and Japan have been consistently getting to World Cups, consistently improving for years now.

The US team who made it out of the group stage at their own World Cup in 1994 had seven players employed in major European leagues, with Coventry, Derby and Luton represented: this squad has 17, including players from Arsenal, AC Milan, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus.

Times have changed; thankfully, England have changed, too.

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  • 1 час, 52 минуты назад 05.12.2022Sport
    Socceroos Milos Degenek lashes out at Aussies who didn’t back Graham Arnold’s team at FIFA World Cup

    Socceroos defender Milos Degenek has hit out at Australian media who didn’t back Graham Arnold’s squad during the World Cup campaign and broke down in tears as he described the incredibly close bond between him and his teammates.

    Degenek, who was one of the Aussies tasked with marking Lionel Messi in the Socceroos’ 2-1 loss to Argentina on Sunday morning, gave fans a rare glimpse of his emotional side of himself after the game.

    ‘It’s disappointing that we lost,’ said the heartbroken 28-year-old. ‘And … I don’t know how to say this, but I’d love it if you guys backed us, and no-one wrote a bad word about anyone … and just stood by the boys.’

    Degenek had tears streaming down his face and had to pause briefly to compose himself.

    ‘It’s gonna stick with us forever,’ he said of the World Cup campaign.

    ‘I just hope we made the people proud. I hope it inspires the next generation of kids. Wish we won, made everyone more proud.’

    Asked why he was so emotional, Degenek explained how much the sport means to him.

    ‘I love the game. It’s given me everything,’ he said, the tears restarting.

    ‘Dreams come true. It’s just hard. Back the boys, we’ll do more next time.’

    Degenek was just 18 months old when his family sought refuge in Serbia after fleeing Croatia during the war of independence.

    When he was six, the Kosovo war arrived on his doorstep and his family fled to Australia with very few possessions.

    Football gave Degenek a life he could never imagine and he believes the Socceroos squad is the best he has ever been involved with.

    ‘Doesn’t matter that I wasn’t born in Australia, it doesn’t matter that I’m not 100% Aussie, I feel it. I feel it through these guys,’ Degenek said.

    ‘I’d love to stay with these boys for another two weeks. It’s a band of brothers. It’s more than friends.’

    Degenek, who represented Aussie and Serbian youth teams before sticking with the Socceroos, also spoke briefly about what it was like marking Messi – who is looking to win the only major title to elude him during his career.

    ‘It’s hard to keep the best player that’s ever played the game out of the game,’ he said. ‘We did everything we could.

    ‘If we equalised we could have knocked them out. It’s a testament that we came this far. I hope they win it, so we can say we got knocked out by the winners.’

  • 3 часа, 51 минута назад 05.12.2022Sport
    Gareth Southgate admits Harry Kane’s first goal of the World Cup was ‘so important for him and us’

    Gareth Southgate has insisted Harry Kane’s first goal at the Qatar World Cup will be ‘so important for him’, after the striker scored England’s second in their 3-0 win over Senegal on Sunday.

    The goal, which came after an excellent run from Jude Bellingham and a smart cross from Phil Foden, took Kane past Gary Lineker to become England’s highest scorer at major tournaments, with 11.

    The 29-year-old’s overall England tally (52) is now just one behind the Three Lions’ record scorer Wayne Rooney.

    Speaking after the game, Southgate felt the goal would give his striker a boost moving forward. He said: ‘Any centre forward wants to get off the mark, and of course for him it stops all the questions.

    The manager also felt that Kane grew into the game after scoring, as he explained: ‘I thought he started to find a bit more space in the second half and his link up play was better as well, so it was important for him and for us.’

    England’s win puts them through to the quarter finals of the World Cup, where they will face defending champions France after their 3-1 win over Poland.

    Kylian Mbappe continued to show his stunning form for Les Bleus and netted twice in the game, but there will be some concern that Didier Deschamps’ side are yet to keep a clean sheet.

    Looking ahead to the next game, Southgate said of France: ‘They’re an outstanding team with a phenomenal tournament record and some outstanding individuals, so without a doubt we’ll have to find our highest possible level.’

    The quarter final will be played in the Al Bayt Stadium on Saturday, December 10 at 7pm GMT.

  • 3 часа, 51 минута назад 05.12.2022Sport
    Gareth Southgate hails England’s ‘ruthlessness’ after reaching the World Cup quarter-finals

    Gareth Southgate hailed England’s ‘ruthlessness’ after their 3-0 win over Senegal in the World Cup Round of 16.

    The Three Lions secured their passage to the quarter-finals where they will face France next Saturday.

    After a poor start to the game from England, Jordan Henderson broke the deadlock for Southgate’s side after 38 minutes, before Harry Kane added a second on the stroke of half-time.

    Bukayo Saka confirmed the victory in the 57th minute, as England eased to the win at the Al Bayt Stadium.

    Following the game, Southgate highlighted England’s ability to take their chances as his most pleasing takeaway from the performance, while he also admitted his side were under par during the first part of the game.

    ‘I think the ruthlessness of our execution (was my favourite part),’ Southgate told ITV.

    ‘But the way the team worked off the ball, and without the ball. I think in the end we were a bit sticky with the ball in the first 25-30 minutes.

    ‘Senegal had a lot of energy, they pressed well, their shape was good. And really our best opportunities came from winning the ball from them.’

    Henderson’s opener for the Three Lions capped a fantastic performance from the Liverpool skipper after his selection had received criticism from fans ahead of the game.

    And Southgate was full of praise for the midfielder, insisting he is extremely important to England.

    He said: ‘I thought Jude and Hendo in particular were outstanding in that aspect of the game.

    ‘They’re both forward running, forward thinking midfield players. Hendo doesn’t get many friends but I think he has been outstanding.

    ‘He’s such a leader, he knits the team together, around the camp he’s brilliant. And I think his performances have been top draw for us.’

    England will now face France in a blockbuster quarter-final clash next Saturday evening (7pm GMT).

    Dider Deschamps side impressed in their 3-1 win over Poland with Kylian Mbappe scoring twice to reaffirm his position as the current top scorer at the World Cup.

    When looking ahead, Southgate was full of praise for Les Bleus who are the World Cup holders and said it would be a tough occasion for England.

    He added: ‘They’re an outstanding team with a phenomenal tournament record.

    ‘And some outstanding individuals, so without a doubt we’ll have to find our highest possible level.’

  • 3 часа, 51 минута назад 05.12.2022Sport
    FIFA may re-think three team groups for the 2026 World Cup in North America featuring 48 team field

    FIFA is reconsidering its options on how to divide teams in the 2026 World Cup, with groups of three and four on the table.

    Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s Director of Global Football, said the global football governing body is reconsidering how they’ll group teams for the tournament in four years.

    That tournament will see the World Cup field expand from 32 teams to 48 teams for the first time in its history.

    Wenger said no decisions have been made yet, but that a decision could come soon from the FIFA council.

    ‘This is not decided, but it will be 16 groups of three, 12 groups of four, or two sides of six groups of four, like you organise two 24-team [tournaments],’ Wenger said on Sunday.

    ‘I will not be able to decide that, it will be decided by the FIFA Council, and I think it will be done in the next year.’

    Calls to reconsider FIFA’s original plan for the tournament – with 16 groups of three teams – came as action at this World Cup has produced surprises such as Japan and South Korea advancing out of tough groups.

    The 16 group format would prevent multiple teams advancing out of each group. It would also bring an end to the simultaneous fixture ending that produced the drama in Groups C, E, and H at this World Cup.

    In addition to being the first World Cup hosting 48 teams, the 2026 edition of the tournament will be the first to have three host countries – with games being held in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

    Games will be played in Vancouver and Toronto in Canada and in the cities of Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Mexico City in Mexico.

    Meanwhile, the United States will host matches in Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.

  • 3 часа, 51 минута назад 05.12.2022Sport
    Graham Arnold’s Socceroos job will be in limbo for at least a MONTH despite World Cup success

    Graham Arnold’s tenure as Socceroos coach will be unresolved for at least a month as Football Australia review the World Cup campaign.

    Arnold’s contract ended when the Socceroos were knocked out in Qatar with a 2-1 loss to Argentina in a round of 16 clash.

    The Socceroos boss is now on holiday as he weighs his future.

    ‘I just want to go away, have a good holiday, have a break and see what happens,’ Arnold said after the Argentina game.

    ‘I haven’t even thought about it (my future). I need a rest and no doubt I will have good discussions then with the organisation.’

    FA chief executive James Johnson said those discussions and other staffing matters would be part of an in-depth review into Australia’s cup campaign.

    ‘We look forward to discussing our plans for the next World Cup cycle with Graham when he returns to Australia following a well-deserved break,’ Johnson said.

    ‘This thorough review will take place over the coming weeks and be presented to the board of Football Australia for consideration in the New Year.’

    Arnold has called for more government funding, focused on junior development, to build on the momentum of the Socceroos’ World Cup run.

    Arnold’s Aussies were just the second Socceroos outfit to advance to the knockout phase, following the 2006 edition.

    His Socceroos were the first to win two games at a single edition and also the first to keep consecutive clean sheets.

    The Australians, ranked 38th in the world, downed Tunisia and Denmark while losing to reigning title holders and world No.4 France and world No.3 Argentina.

    Arnold wants a headquarters built for Australia’s national teams and an expanded A-League to offer greater opportunity for young footballers to turn professional.

    ‘There’s only one thing the A-League needs to do and it’s play more football,’ he said.

    ‘They don’t play enough, 25, 26 games (in a season) isn’t enough, 12 teams isn’t enough.

    ‘We need to give kids more opportunity to be professional footballers and play more football.

    ‘The quality of the A-League … the boys here have shown, they have come from the A-League and they can match it on the world stage.

    ‘I’m a firm believer in it. And we have got those young kids coming through, they have got to be ready.’

    FA chief Johnson lauded the achievements of Arnold and his players.

    ‘The performance … has demonstrated we can compete on the world stage,’ Johnson said.

    ‘There has never been a more exciting time for Australian football.

    ‘We will now use this platform to continue forging forward and grow as a football nation, with player development at the centre of this.’

  • 3 часа, 52 минуты назад 05.12.2022Sport
    IAN LADYMAN: FIFA are trying to fix something that isn’t broken in altering World Cup format in 2026

    One of the most exciting nights I have experienced at this World Cup took place without me having to leave the hotel.

    Sitting in my room watching Group E reach a remarkably tense denouement on the television was to know what the best of World Cup football is all about.

    At half-time, with Germany leading Costa Rica and Spain ahead against Japan, both the big European nations were heading through from what we had called the Group of Death.

    With 20 minutes of both games to go, with both teams now behind, they were both going home.

    Ultimately, Germany scored three goals that won them the game and therefore sent Spain through but not themselves. In order for Germany to progress as well, Spain had to rally and ultimately they didn’t.

    Flicking between two channels to try to keep across both games, I inevitably had the feeling that I was always watching the wrong one. Heaven knows what it must have been like to support one of the teams involved or even be in one of the stadiums.

    This is one of the reasons we watch the World Cup and other big tournaments.

    It is to watch England and watch big-name players, for sure. But it’s also to be part of dramatic nights like that one, when football seems to be the only thing in life that matters as the fate of four nations swings back and forwards irresistibly.

    In America in four years’ time, however, there will be none of this. FIFA in their wisdom have decreed 48 teams will take part in World Cup 2026, rather than the current 32.

    We are not totally sure yet what the format will be. It was thought there would be 16 groups of three with two teams going through from each. Now we think there may be 12 groups of four with the top two going through and the eight best third-placed teams.

    What we do know is that this will lessen the possibility of nights like last Thursday. In 2026’s potential format, Germany would either have progressed as a third-placed finisher or at the very least would have been left waiting to discover their fate once all the groups had been completed.

    How strange. To take away all that intrigue and drama and fabulous excitement just because squeezing 16 extra teams into a tournament will mean more matches, more sponsorship, more TV money.

    It is as if FIFA value money over sport. As the guardians of the world game, that can’t be true, can it?

    Louis gets the Dutch on song

    Louis van Gaal and his Dutch players sang and danced their way back into their team hotel after winning against the US on Saturday.

    As players such as Memphis Depay and Virgil van Dijk jigged and sang into the night, their 71-year-old coach followed behind with a beaming smile as he filmed it all on his mobile phone.

    This is a limited Dutch team coached by a man in the final days of his career. But they are united and propelled by a common purpose and that is quite a rarity where they are concerned.

    It is a combination that could yet take them past Argentina on Friday and into the last four.

    Arsene Wenger turned ‘full FIFA’ long ago.

    It was his idea to stage the World Cup every two years, and replace throw-ins with free-kicks. On Sunday, he said: ‘The teams ready to focus on competition and not political demonstration played well.’

    For an intelligent man like Wenger to mock Germany — who embarrassed FIFA with a moving, brave and memorable protest — from his position in Gianni Infantino’s pocket was facile. And to think there was a time we hung on his every word.

    English referee Anthony Taylor has been criticised for blowing for full time before South Korea could take a corner against Ghana.

    Apparently, referees are encouraged not to end the game in an attacking phase of play. What nonsense. When time is up, it’s up.

    Gabriel Jesus is out of the World Cup with a knee injury and that is bad news for Brazil.

    It’s even worse news for Arsenal. Strange as it sounds, the Premier League restarts in just 21 days.

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Sport MARTIN SAMUEL: Gareth Southgate's team have an identity and philosophy no matter who plays