Ghana's No. 1

'Admire? Yes. Respect? Always. But fear? No chance'

Published on: 05 December 2022

Fifa World CupHost nation: Qatar Dates: 20 November-18 December Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-by-day TV listings - Full coverage details

This World Cup feels wide open to me.

England still have an awful lot of work to do to win it, of course, but at the same time there is nothing for us to fear from the other teams who are left in it.

Admire? Yes. Respect? Always. But fear? No chance.

Let everyone else be afraid of us, and there are plenty of reasons they will be after watching Gareth Southgate's side play the way they did against Senegal on Sunday.

I love the way we are roaring forward, the goals we are scoring and how our players are doing all of that while looking like they are having a lot of fun despite being in such a pressured environment.

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And, the more I see of us, as well as watching every other team left in this World Cup, the more I do 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 some potential weaknesses too.

France, who we play next in the quarter-finals, are a good example of that. It's not a case of 'stop Kylian Mbappe and you win' because their front six is as good as any in Qatar, but like us they have had one or two problems defensively on their way to the last eight.

I've felt the same way when I've watched the other favourites, like Brazil, Argentina and Spain as well.

Yes, they have shown why they can win it, but we have definitely done that too.

England are better now than at Russia 201

England did very well at their past couple of tournaments, but I think there is a difference this time.

Four years ago, we were not the most talented side at the World Cup but we were well organised, had fantastic team spirit and great character, and that took us to the semi-finals.

This time we are definitely a better team, ability-wise, 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 togetherness, but we have more experience, more depth - and we have got a very exciting young talent in Jude Bellingham too.

Bellingham has probably been the young player of this World Cup so far. His performance against Senegal was unbelievably good, and he brings something different to this England team that we didn't have four years ago.

With him driving forward from midfield, we look more dangerous - we are far more fluid now when we build attacks, wherever they start.

We are still a threat from free-kicks and corners but we are creating more chances in open play than at either of those past two tournaments, and taking them too.

England have not only scored more goals, with 12, than anyone else at this tournament, we are the first team since Brazil in 2006 to score 10 goals in open play at their first four games at a World Cup.

England chances and goals from open play (and total) after first four gamesChancesTournamentGoals32/47 = 68%2022 World Cup10/12 = 83%18/27 = 66%2020 Euros4/4 = 100%23/56 = 41%2018 World Cup2/9 = 22%

That shows how hard we are to stop, and more of our players are chipping in with goals now too - in total, eight of our players have scored in Qatar, compared with only three by the same stage in Russia.

We always knew our attacking talent had got goals in them - the only surprise from the group stage was that Harry Kane had not got off the mark yet, but he is up and running now.

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Mbappe is not France's only threat

You need to do more than keep Kane quiet to keep England out, and it is the same with France and Mbappe.

Antoine Griezmann and Adrien Rabiot are having brilliant tournaments, Aurelien Tchouameni has really impressed me and, while Ousmane Dembele can blow hot and cold, if he is on form that night then he is a handful.

And then you have Olivier Giroud of course, who is now France's record men's goalscorer. He didn't get a shot on target, let alone score a goal, in seven matches when France won the 2018 World Cup, but he has three already in this tournament.

I covered two France games live in the group stage in Qatar and what I noticed was that they are not shy about putting a cross in to the box. Dembele and Mbappe both rained balls in for Giroud and gave him service that he did not receive four years ago.

They have kept on doing it too - only the United States have made more crosses from open play than France at this World Cup, and Didier Deschamps' side have already delivered more of them in four games at this tournament than they did in seven matches in 2018, and with much more accuracy [33.9% have been successful now compared with 16.1% then].

Olivier Giroud has scored 52 goals in 117 appearances for France

You would hope our two centre-halves, John Stones and Harry Maguire, are used to that and can deal with it, but it illustrates how France will attack us in different ways.

It could be a shootout between our front five and theirs - and it is going to be great to watch.

France's open play crosses (and rank) at the 2022 World CupCrossesSuccessfulAccuracy65 (2)22 (1)33.9% (4)England's momentum and confidence are growing

This is the stage when we can start to look at England's possible path to the final and, like I say, there is nothing to be scared of.

The England players cannot say it, but they must be thinking the same thing - and why not, because this is a great opportunity for them.

Their momentum is building and their confidence is growing so, yes, it is looking good.

There were some huge performances from our players against Senegal, but the manager deserves as much credit as they do.

Southgate made some more big calls with his team selection for that game, and got all of them absolutely spot on again.

It was incredibly harsh on Marcus Rashford to be left out after his goals against Wales in the previous match, but when the team plays like they did, there is no comeback because you know Southgate got it absolutely right.

We will have to wait and see what plan he has for France, but I am expecting him to stick with four at the back rather than switch to a five.

We have got so many talented players to come into the team, or come off the bench, but England have been really impressive playing in that system so why change it?

Alan Shearer was speaking to Chris Bevan in Doha, Qatar.

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