Southgate shows critics his ruthless side as England march on to World Cup quarter-final
ITV News Sport Editor Steve Scott reports on England's 3-0 drubbing of Senegal at the World Cup
Gareth Southgate is urbane, popular and unfailingly polite. That we all know, but don’t let that mislead you into thinking there’s not a ruthless side to him too. He proved that last night as England cruised past Senegal to the World Cup quarter-final.
While as a person he is universally admired, as an England head coach he has his critics.
They will find it difficult to find fault in anything he has done so far in Qatar, despite rounding on him last night when his team selection was unveiled. Rashford rested, Saka back in and Henderson starting in midfield again were decisions roundly condemned in the social media echo chambers.
Phil Foden started but Raheem Sterling was unavailable after heading home to be with his family, following a terrifying armed raid at their home, so we’ll never know if the Manchester City favourite would have started ahead of him.
Despite Southgate’s loyalty to players like Sterling who have never let him down, you would suspect Foden might have got the nod.
Southgate’s picks all worked brilliantly; Foden and Saka combined for the third goal and the all-important opener was claimed by Henderson of all people - not the most prolific marksman England has ever fielded.
Most impressive was the Liverpool captain’s partnership with Rice and Bellingham in midfield, they complement each other well and in Bellingham, if you hadn’t clocked it already, England have a gem.
His performance in a World Cup knockout game was something a major tournament veteran would be proud of; Bellingham is still a teenager. It’s astonishing.
As remarkable, is how Southgate has turned the Three Lions into a formidable tournament team.
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Between 1968 and 2016, England won six knockout games in major tournaments. Since then in just four years, Southgate’s teams have matched that success.
You don’t manage that if you haven’t got a steely side and are nervous about making difficult decisions.
His impressive record faces by far its biggest threat to date on Saturday against France.
Between now and then the court of public opinion will no doubt advise him of the many ways he should be setting up to tame the irrepressible Kylian Mbappe.
As usual he will ignore the noise and just do what he thinks is best, and with luck he’ll be spot on yet again.