Gareth Southgate faces his ‘biggest test’ as England manager against France but he has earned the trust to deliver

The World Cup quarter-finals begin on Friday; Jones Knows returns with predictions and believes Brazil and Argentina will win tense encounters to advance to the semi-finals.

Gareth Southgate has described it as the “biggest test” England could face at the World Cup. Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville calls it the “game of a lifetime.” Without a doubt, Saturday’s meeting with France is crucial. Especially for the manager. His England team has been thrilling on their way to the last eight. There were twelve goals scored, with eight different scorers. But now it gets serious. The outcome at Al Bayt Stadium could define their tournament. It could even define Southgate’s tenure.

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Gareth Southgate faces his ‘biggest test

His decisions, while likely already made – his assistant Steve Holland revealed this week that their plan to stop Kylian Mbappe has been in the works for two years – have been endlessly debated. Is he going to use a back four or a back five? Which of his wide players will be selected to back up Harry Kane? Will he be able to break up England’s three-man midfield that powered them past Wales and Senegal?

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There is much to consider, but Southgate has earned the right to be trusted with the responsibility. After all, this is a manager who has won twice as many major tournament knockout games as the previous nine England managers combined. It’s a figure that demonstrates the breadth of his accomplishments. Only the second semi-final appearance since 1966, and England’s first since 1990, at the last World Cup. Last year’s Euros saw them reach the final for the first time in six decades.

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Southgate was chastised on each occasion for the manner in which England was defeated. When it came to facing the truly top teams in the biggest games, his team fell short, his approach was deemed too cautious, and his manager’s ceiling was said to have been reached. Of course, there have been victories over top teams since the first of those major tournaments in Russia four years ago. Spain, Belgium, and Croatia have all been defeated, with the latter losing twice. Germany was eliminated in the last 16 of the Euros last year.

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But Southgate’s England have never beaten a team quite like France’s reigning world champions, a team that includes a player with an increasingly strong claim to be the best in the world. It is a completely different challenge than what they have faced thus far in this tournament, but Southgate, who was under enormous pressure from supporters before the tournament began, is now buoyed by the success of the decisions that have brought England this far.

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At nearly every turn, there has been vindication. Harry Maguire’s selection was highly contentious, but few doubt his place in the team now. He has assisted England in keeping three consecutive clean sheets, excelling alongside John Stones and demonstrating his unrivaled threat from set pieces. At the other end of the pitch, England’s attacking rotation has been flawless, with Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, and even Jack Grealish, who have yet to start a game in this tournament, all delivering when called upon.

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