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Southgate stands firm after Belgium defeat

England boss backs his young players to confound critics by marching on

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Killer instinct: Radamel Falcao

Killer instinct: Radamel Falcao

Killer instinct: Radamel Falcao

Under scrutiny England boss Gareth Southgate says he is spurred on by the criticism of his team selection in Thursday's final group game defeat by Belgium that plunged his side into a last 16 knockout showdown with Colombia's dangermen instead of a supposedly easier clash with Japan.

And he has urged his young England side to prove their doubters wrong by being the ones to overturn a World Cup history of failure in the knockout stages.

Should England lose to Colombia, Southgate is sure to come under increased pressure for his eight changes against Belgium as well as his reluctance to bring on skipper Harry Kane and chase the draw that would have seen them top Group G and face Japan.

Asked if he had put himself under pressure by making so many alterations in Kaliningrad, Southgate said: "Well, maybe I have, maybe I haven't. That is the least of my concerns.

"The most important thing for me is the players are in the best physical condition for the next game.

"We're into big matches where margins will be fine and judgement on me will be extremely harsh. That's why we're here."

Southgate added: "We want to be in those games. I wasn't so comfortable with the love-in (before the game), to be honest, so nice that there's a little bit of an edge back."

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Southgate is hoping to lead England to their first knockout win since 2006 in Moscow, where he believes his side will rise to the "fantastic challenge" posed by Colombia and reach the quarter-finals.

Success at the Spartak Stadium would highlight the progress in the two years since England's last major tournament ended with a humiliating Euro 2016 exit to Iceland.

Southgate reflected: "We've at times had a squad with real top players and at times we've had a squad with not such outstanding players who've been in those knockout situations.

"There've been many different reasons for not getting over the line. Some disciplinary, some have been penalty shoot outs.

"But more often than not we have not been able to win those matches in normal time or in extra time.

"We've got the chance to be the team that changes that."

Meanwhile, England insist they are on full World Cup alert for Colombian duo Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado having already been burned by one Premier League outcast with a point to prove.

Former Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj was the match-winner as Belgium beat Gareth Southgate's side 1-0 on Thursday and said his desire to prove English critics wrong helped fuel his performance.

His strike meant England finished second in Group G and will now meet the table-topping South Americans in the last 16.

Falcao looked a shadow of his best during loan stints at Chelsea and Manchester United, while Cuadrado was one of many talented players who got lost in the shuffle after a big-money move to Stamford Bridge.

Gary Cahill knows Falcao from their time together in London and warned England cannot afford to see him as the lethargic figure who managed just five goals in two Premier League seasons.

"Falcao had a difficult time in England, but outside of England he's a very high-profile player," said Cahill.

"He's scored many goals. He showed his character when he went to find his form again and now he's a huge player for Monaco. I'm sure a huge amount was probably confidence.

"I suppose in his eyes, the rest is history, he's refound his form."

Ruben Loftus-Cheek also worked with the Colombian pair at Chelsea and gave a ringing endorsement of their skill.

"When I was at Chelsea training with them, Cuadrado didn't get much game time but he still looked sharp," he said.

"He is so sharp and he can just do things off the cuff, he gets past defenders.

"As for Falcao we all know what a player he is. Falcao is always a goal threat and he has been for his entire career.

"It will be a difficult game, just like any other at the World Cup. So we will need to analyse Colombia and work out how we want to play against them."


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