This World Cup seems wide open to me.
England we still have a lot of work to do to win it, of course, but at the same time we have nothing to fear from the other teams that stay in there.
Admire? Yes. Respect? Still. But fear? No chance.
Let everyone be scared of us, and there are plenty of reasons why they will be after watching Gareth Southgate’s side play the way they did against Senegal on Sunday.
I love the way we move forward, the goals we score and the way our players do it all while looking like they’re having fun despite such a pressured environment.
And, the more I see us, in addition to watching all the other teams remaining in this World Cup, the more I think England have a chance of winning it.
All the other sides are very strong in some way, of course, but you can always spot potential weaknesses too.
France, which we will then face in the quarter-finals, is a good example of this. It’s not about ‘Stop Kylian Mbappe and you win’ because their first six are as good as any in Qatar, but like us they had a problem or two defensively before qualifying for the last eight.
I felt the same when I looked at the other favourites, like Brazil, Argentina and Spain as well.
Yes, they showed why they could win, but we certainly did too.
England are better now than at Russia 201
England have done very well in their last two tournaments, but I think there is a difference this time.
Four years ago we weren’t the most talented team at the World Cup, but we were well organised, had fantastic team spirit and great character, and that got us to the semi-finals .
This time we are definitely a better team, in terms of ability, than we were at Russia 2018 or last year’s European Championship where we lost in the final.
We still have a plan, and that same unity, but we have more experience, more depth – and we also have a very exciting young talent in Jude Bellingham.
Bellingham has probably been the youngster in this World Cup so far. His performance against Senegal was incredibly good, and he brings something different to this England team that we didn’t have four years ago.
With him advancing from midfield, we look more dangerous – we’re much more fluid now when building attacks, wherever they start.
We’re still a threat from free-kicks and corners, but we’re creating more chances in open play than in either of the last two tournaments, and we’re taking them too.
England have not only scored more goals, with 12, than anyone else in this tournament, but we are the first team since Brazil in 2006 to score 10 goals from open play in their first four games. in the World Cup.
It shows how hard we are to stop, and more of our players are scoring goals now too – in total eight of our players have scored in Qatar, compared to just three at the same stage in Russia.
We always knew our attacking talent had scored – the only surprise from the group stage was that Harry Kane hadn’t scored yet, but he’s now operational.
Mbappé is not the only threat to France
You have to do more than keep Kane quiet to keep England out, and it’s the same with France and Mbappe.
Antoine Griezmann and Adrien Rabiot are playing brilliant tournaments, Aurelien Tchouameni really impressed me and, while Ousmane Dembele can blow hot and cold, if he’s in good form that night, it’s a handful.
And then there is of course Olivier Giroud, who is now France’s top men’s scorer. He went off target, let alone scored a goal, in seven appearances when France won the 2018 World Cup, but he already has three in this tournament.
I covered two France games live during the group stage in Qatar and what I noticed was that they don’t hesitate to put a cross in the box. Both Dembele and Mbappe rained down balls for Giroud and did him a favor he didn’t receive four years ago.
They continued to do so too – only the United States have made more crosses from open play than France at this World Cup, and Didier Deschamps’ side have already netted more in four games at this tournament than in seven games in 2018, and with much more precision [33.9% have been successful now compared with 16.1% then].
You hope our two centre-halves, John Stones and Harry Maguire, are used to it and can deal with it, but it illustrates how France will attack us in different ways.
It could be a shootout between our top five and theirs – and it’s going to be great to watch.
England’s momentum and confidence growing
It is at this point that we can start to consider England’s possible path to the final and, as I said, there is nothing to worry about.
English players can’t say it, but they must think the same – and why not, because it’s a great opportunity for them.
Their momentum is building and their confidence is growing so, yeah, it’s looking good.
There were huge performances from our players against Senegal, but the manager deserves as much credit as they do.
Southgate made other big calls with their team selection for this match, and again showcased them all perfectly.
It was incredibly hard for Marcus Rashford to be left out after his goals against Wales in the previous game, but when the team play the way they did there is no going back because you know Southgate has it all figured out.
We’ll have to wait and see what plan he has for France, but I expect him to stay with four at the back rather than move to five.
We have so many talented players coming in and coming off the bench, but England have been really impressive playing in this system, so why change it?
Alan Shearer was talking to Chris Bevan in Doha, Qatar.