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Southgate pushes England to end knockout stages curse
England boss Gareth Southgate urged his young squad to seize the chance to make a name for themselves in the last 16 clash against Colombia in Moscow on Tuesday and end their knockout stages curse. Not since 2006 have England won a game in the knockout stages of the World Cup. Twelve years ago it was 1-0 against Ecuador.
In 2010 in South Africa, they lost 4-1 in the last 16 against Germany and in 2014 in Brazil, it was an exit after three group stage matches.
At the Spartak Stadium, Southgate’s group of international ingenus take on a seasoned Colombia side led by the Monaco striker Radamel Falcao.
“For this England team it is a brilliant opportunity to go beyond where more experienced teams have gone before,” said Southgate. “I think they are relishing that chance. There is an energy in training and we’re viewing the game as an opportunity against an opponent we really respect. This is the kind of game you want to be involved in. The lads have a chance to write their own stories.”
England reached the last 16 in Russia after a 2-1 win over Tunisia in the opening game in Volgograd on 18 June. They followed that up six days later with a 6-1 annihilation of Panama.
Southgate courted controversy for the final Group G game against Belgium in Kaliningrad by resting several key players including skipper Harry Kane. That 1-0 defeat led to a second place finish in the group and the clash against Colombia who are four places below them in 16th in the Fifa world rankings.
Kane, who has scored five goals in his two games at the tournament, is likely to return along with attacking midfielder Raheem Sterling. The 23-year-old Manchester City midfielder is one of the most skilful players in Southgate’s squad. However he has not hit the target for England since October 2015. That lack of potency has led pundits and commentators to question his place in the squad.
“Whether his goal scoring is a damn that is about to burst or not, I have great belief in him,” said Southgate. “Raheem has been a really important part of the team. His movement has been key in the change of system and he has the ability to run at teams from deep and interchange with the other forward players.”
Southgate added: “At times I’ve wondered why there has been such a focus on his position in the team and not on others. But that’s the way it is. He is tough and resilient and he’ll be one of many looking forward to the match.”
When England did win that game in the knockout stages in 2006, they eventually went out in the quarter-final to Portugal. It was lost in a penalty shootout.
“We’ve been through the various drills to prepare for a penalty shootout,” said Southgate, who missed a spot kick in the semi-final shootout against Germany in the 1996 European championships.
“If we get to that point, we know our ranking of players. Our prime focus is preparing for what happens during the flow of the game but should it come to penalties, we’re ready.”