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Xavi lavishes praise on England and backs Southgate’s side to challenge for World Cup in Qatar

Xavi has lavished praise on England and has backed Gareth Southgate’s side to challenge for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

England enjoyed a strong performance to reach the final of Euro 2020 before losing to Italy on penalties during the summer, the Three Lions’ first progression to a major tournament final since winning the World Cup on home soil in 1966.

 

The progress of the side has left an impression on former Barcelona midfielder Xavi, who believes England have the physicality and technical quality to challenge for silverware in the coming years.

Xavi is currently manager of Qatari side Al-Sadd, winning a league and cup double without defeat last season, and ahead of a World Cup hosted in the Middle Eastern nation next winter, the Spaniard believes England will be amongst the favourites for the trophy.

“I’ve seen England at a fantastic level,” he told the Times. “They have absolutely everything on the squad. Well, actually they were not champions just because of a penalty. But this generation is young, physically strong but also great technically. With this group of players, they’ll always be competitive.

“I can see them fighting for the World Cup, without a shadow of a doubt. They are almost there, and I think that sooner rather than later they’ll have this spark of luck you need to win trophies.”

Xavi believes the influence of foreign managers in the Premier League has benefitted the development of English players in recent years, with names such as Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino credited with the progress of the national side.

“I’m sure the foreign managers in the Premier League have influenced the approach England have to football today,” he suggested. “Guardiola has added a lot in that regard, but not just him. Roberto Martínez back in the day was very helpful too. Or Pochettino. Or Klopp.

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“They are doing things very well from the younger ranks. They promote the talent, and I think that Southgate embodies that new culture.

“I believe the country has seen that playing in a way they can exploit the massive amount of talent they stock; their chances are bigger. They realised that when Germany stick to a specific development plan, or that when Spain embraced this positional and passing style of football, the outcome changed for the best.”

The Spaniard hailed Manchester City defender John Stones and his ability to play comfortably out from defence, whilst Xavi also reserved praise for midfield duo Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips in the centre of the side.

“You can see a centre back like John Stones and how he plays the ball out from the defence,” he said. “And next to him there’s Maguire, who drives up the ball to split the opponent’s pressing. How the full backs and wing backs behave for the team . . . there are details that speak volumes of Southgate’s work.

“I have also been hugely impressed by the two midfielders, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips. I did not know them that well, but they were superb.”

Another player who caught Xavi’s eye was Phil Foden, with the Barcelona great describing the midfielder as ‘an unreal talent for a lot of reasons’.

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Xavi admits he would have liked to see Foden receive more game time during Euro 2020 and believes the Manchester City star has ‘everything in the pack’.

“I think he is an unreal talent for a lot of reasons,” he said. “He has an amazing work rate, but also his decision-making is ace. He’s strong, quick, has a sense of goal, great passer and shooter . . . there’s everything in the pack.”

“I would have loved to see more game time for Foden. When you have this number of talented players, all I can think of is putting them on the pitch. I understand it’s very tough to make changes with the squad Southgate had. There were a lot of options in his hands and only eleven could play. But it’s a pity to see so many special talents with not much playing time.”

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