Gareth Southgate insists England’s status as favourites in their World Cup last 16 clash with Senegal means nothing because the African champions will pose a serious threat to his team.
Southgate’s side are regarded as title contenders in Qatar after reaching the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and finishing as Euro 2020 runners-up.
England are expected to see off Senegal at the Al Bayt Stadium, but Southgate has no intention of underestimating Aliou Cisse’s men.
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“We have been very impressed with Senegal. We know they are African champions and are very proud and have great spirit and belief in their team,” Southgate told reporters on Saturday.
“They have some excellent individual players who can cause problems, but a good structure as well.
“We will be considered the favourites and Senegal the underdogs but that doesn’t really mean anything in a one-off game.”
Despite the absence of injured Bayern Munich forward Sadio Mane, Senegal have won as many games as England in the tournament, with both teams earning two victories in the group stage.
Senegal are also fresh from winning their maiden African Cup of Nations crown last year.
“Sadio is an incredible player and every team would want to have him but Senegal have become very strong in his absence,” Southgate said.
“They have shown great spirit through losing him. We have got to be at our very best to win the game. Cisse has done a fantastic job. We know the size of the job ahead of us.”
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After coming close to silverware at the last two major tournaments, England are hoping to take the final step in Doha.
Southgate believes the experience his players gained during those runs to the latter stages will stand them in good stead as they chase England’s first trophy since the 1966 World Cup.
“We learned a lot from playing seven matches at the last two tournaments and the need to keep the players involved emotionally,” he said.
“The biggest thing is the expectation levels. In Russia when we qualified from the group stages we were probably more excited than this time.
“There was an awful lot of noise after our draw against the United States, but we’ve stayed on track and qualified as well as anyone else.”
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Southgate must decide whether to retain Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford in England’s attack after both impressed with goal-scoring displays in the win over Wales.
Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount were all left out of the Wales game, underlining England’s strength in depth in forward areas.
“It is a good position to be in, you want your players to be in a confident mood and our forward players certainly are,” Southgate said.
“Of course you want to make the best possible decision but in some respects I am not sure there is a right or wrong. Whichever players we start with we’ll need the bench as well.” England captain Harry Kane remains without a goal at the tournament after finishing as top scorer in the 2018 edition.
But Kane said: “I’d love to be sitting here with two or three goals by now. Going into the knock out stage, I feel really good. I feel as match fit as I’m ever going to feel.
“Only time will tell. I can try and come into the best form with these knockout games.”
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