Neville Southall insists Jordan Pickford is not to blame for Everton's woes and believes he is rightfully England's first-choice goalkeeper.

Pickford captained Everton as Frank Lampard's team capitulated to another dismal away defeat on Wednesday, this time to relegation rivals Burnley.

Two penalties from Richarlison had put Everton 2-1 up at Turf Moor heading into half-time yet Jay Rodriguez and Maxwel Cornet struck to seal a 3-2 victory for Burnley that takes the Clarets to within a point of Lampard's side, who sit 17th with nine games remaining.

Pickford was hardly at fault for any of Burnley's goals and has been a consistent performer for Everton despite their torrid form.

The 28-year-old's place as England number one has been called into question this term, due in large part to Aaron Ramsdale's strong form for Arsenal, though Gareth Southgate has stood by Pickford, who has played a pivotal role in the Three Lions reaching a World Cup semi-final and the final of Euro 2020.

Asked about Pickford by Sky Sports, Everton great Southall, who was their goalkeeper throughout the club's successful spell in the 1980s, said: "Confidence plays a part in it. Jordan Pickford's done nothing wrong this season.

"Unfortunately at the moment, we've got Aaron Ramsdale at Arsenal and traditionally most of the media want somebody to play [for England] from a London club.

"So he's always going to be under more scrutiny because he's playing for a club up north. I truly believe there's been a witch hunt against him through the media at times and I think it's just silly.

"He's a decent goalkeeper, playing for England. Is he going to make mistakes? Of course he is, because he's human."

Southall also believes fans and pundits have to be more aware of the potential damage that being highly critical of players can do to their mental wellbeing.

"We've got to think about what we say to these players," he continued. "Telling them all the time that they can't do stuff. 

"We should start saying that they can do it. They don't know what damage they're doing. You're entitled to an opinion but some of the language I think has been over the top and it can affect some of the players. For me it's about looking after the players' welfare."

Everton's situation makes for grim reading. Lampard has lost all five of his Premier League away games in charge of the club – he is the first manager to lose his first five away matches at a Premier League side since Jan Siewert at Huddersfield Town in 2019, who lost his first seven.

Southall, though, has put the onus on the players to step up after mistakes from Ben Godfrey and Jonjoe Kenny proved costly at Turf Moor.

"I wouldn't say any, to be fair," Southall said when asked how much responsibility fell on Lampard's shoulders.

"Whoever he puts out it's up to them to do the job. It's all about the players on the pitch. The players have to emulate the fans, passion, expression, desire and if they show them things I think we'll get results."

Everton face Manchester United at Goodison Park on Saturday.

England could be considered as "the biggest favourite" for the 2022 World Cup, according to former Three Lions manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Gareth Southgate's team reached the semi-finals at Russia 2018, matching England's best effort at a World Cup since they triumphed on home soil in 1966.

England then made their first major tournament final appearance since 1966 when they faced Italy in a Euro 2020 showdown last year, only to lose on penalties.

Eriksson managed England at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, reaching the quarter-finals of each tournament respectively, while also getting to the last eight at Euro 2004.

Beaten by Brazil in 2002, and Portugal at the following two tournaments, Eriksson was unable to guide England's 'golden generation' to success.

But the Swede believes Southgate's team have earned the right to be considered among the favourites – and, indeed, the frontrunner overall – to succeed in Qatar later this year.

Eriksson told Stats Perform: "I think they are one of the big teams who can win, and maybe they are the biggest favourite.

 

"I'm not sure how strong Brazil and Argentina are in this moment, but in Europe, Italy [are] not there. Spain, I don't think they are good enough to win it too. Germany, you never know they could do it. Belgium, always a good team."

Eriksson also believes England should easily progress from Group B, in which they have been drawn alongside Iran, the United States and one of Ukraine, Scotland or Wales.

"The group with England, Iran, United States and then it's Ukraine Scotland or Wales. I mean, it's always difficult in the World Cup, but I can't see them not winning that group," Eriksson added.

"That's impossible. They will win it easily. And then it depends always, who are you going to meet next stage, and then if you win there you go to the quarter-final.

"So, a little bit of luck there and no injuries, important players and so on and England can do it."

England boss Gareth Southgate has expressed his support for proposed changes to 2022 World Cup squads.

FIFA is expected to announce an increase in squad sizes for the tournament in Qatar, with 26-man squads instead of 23 – akin to those permitted at Euro 2020 – expected to be allowed.

Coaches of the qualified nations are also pushing for 15-man benches at the competition after Euro 2020 regulations forced Southgate and other bosses to leave three players out of their matchday squads.

England will begin their 16th World Cup campaign with a first-ever competitive meeting with Iran on November 21, before rounding off their group-stage campaign with games against the United States and one of Wales, Scotland, or Ukraine.

Southgate has now claimed that coaches were "unanimous" in their desire to allow every player in a squad to be in matchday contention in Qatar at a recent meeting, making his strong support for the proposal clear.

"I think what everyone is saying is that if the squads are going to be bigger, then it needs to be a situation where everybody is able to change on a matchday," Southgate said. 

"That was unanimous in the room [at the coaches' meeting]. Whether a bigger squad is necessary... originally that was for COVID-19, there's now people talking about the [impact of] condensed fixtures. 

"I still think it's a bigger skill to pick 23 and to work all that out, but that decision will be made and I suspect it will be 26. 

"But I think everybody has to be available for all the games."

Southgate also highlighted some difficulties of managing a squad at an international tournament, noting the "challenge" of keeping players involved as a reason why some coaches may not elect to take extra players.

"You either get the difficult conversations in the middle of November or in the next few weeks," Southgate added. "That's how it was last summer.

"When you are picking a team, when you've got 11 who are happy and 15 who are disappointed, that's more of a challenge. That's managing. 

"That's why you don't have to take 26, I know Luis Enrique didn't last year [Spain took 24 players to Euro 2020]. That's something we'll have to think about, depending on what the Covid situation is and what our injuries might be."

England are the only European team to have reached the semi-finals of the last two major international tournaments (the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020), and sealed their place in Qatar via a dominant qualification campaign in which they scored 39 goals and conceded just three.

Gregg Berhalter is relishing the opportunity to face Gareth Southgate's England at the World Cup, with the United States coach seeing his England counterpart as a "mentor".

The USA were drawn alongside England, Iran and one of Wales, Scotland or Ukraine in Group B in Friday's draw for the 2022 World Cup, which will be held in Qatar later this year.

Having failed to make the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the USA were not sure of qualification heading into Wednesday's meeting with Costa Rica, which they lost 2-0.

However, a 5-0 win over Panama in their previous qualifier had all but ensured that they, along with Mexico and Canada, progressed automatically as the CONCACAF representatives, courtesy of their superior goal difference compared to Costa Rica.

Speaking to BBC Sport following the draw, Berhalter explained how he and Southgate "go way back", saying they had contact following the former's appointment as USA coach in 2018.

"We think it's a good group, we know every opponent in the World Cup is difficult but with England you get an exciting match-up," Berhalter said.

"We go way back. He's a guy I look up to and has always been there for me, given me advice.

"When I first took the job as national team coach, I looked at him as something as a mentor.

"He's someone who I have a lot of respect for what he's doing, and I'm looking forward to competing against England."

Asked in what capacity he and Southgate knew each other, Berhalter replied: "I just reached out to him when I got the job and asked if he'd be interested in telling me more about international football.

"Being the guy that Gareth is, he was more than happy to have those conversations and since then we have stayed in touch."

England drew 1-1 with the USA in the group stage of the 2010 World Cup, when a Robert Green howler cost Fabio Capello's Three Lions an opening-game win in South Africa.

Gareth Southgate said England's foremost focus will be getting out of their World Cup group after two of their three opponents were confirmed in Friday's draw.

England, who have reached one major semi-final and one final under Southgate, will open their campaign with a first-ever meeting against Iran on the tournament's opening day on November 21.

They will then face the United States in a repeat of their opening game at the 2010 World Cup, while their final group match could see them face a home nations rival in Wales or Scotland, who will compete with Ukraine for Europe's final qualification place in a play-off that has been delayed due to Ukraine's ongoing conflict with Russia.

On paper, Group B looks set to present a smooth passage to the knockout stages for England but Southgate, who led the Three Lions to a first World Cup semi-final since 1990 four years ago, is not looking any further ahead than the group stages.

"The first two teams we've not played for quite a while," Southgate told BBC Sport. "The third is a total unknown but throws up a possible British derby. We know what they're all about, we've had plenty of them!

"For us, we're in on day one so it's quite clear now what our program looks like, with the end of the Premier League season and getting out here as quickly as possible."

Asked if that knowledge gave England more time to prepare for possible knockout games, Southgate responded: "It does, but we've got to get out of the group.

"What we've done well is approach these tournaments by looking at the group. 

"The first objective is to get out of the group, regardless of the opposition, and then you build from there.

"When you're seeded, you get the advantage of missing out on those big six or seven teams. For most of the first seeds, they'll be pleased with the group they get.

"There's obviously some really high ranked teams in Pot Two, and the US in particular, I know Gregg Berhalter quite well, we've met a couple of times and had long chats about things. 

"They've got some very good players and we know what they could be capable of as a nation. That one, in particular, is an intriguing one."

Furthermore, being drawn into a World Cup group with the United States for a third occasion represents the first time that England have been in the same group as one particular nation at three separate editions of the tournament.

England captain Harry Kane, meanwhile, was glad to see that the Three Lions will open their campaign on the first day of the tournament.

"Always exciting to see who we get in the group!" Kane tweeted. "Playing on the opening day will be incredible as well."

The decision to host the World Cup in Qatar has faced strong opposition from many quarters.

Southgate, who made his opposition to any boycott of the tournament clear during the recent international break, expressed his desire for the World Cup to drive substantive change in the Gulf state.

"We'll continue to speak to people here," he added. "We've got to build relationships here to be able to highlight any change that we'd like to make. 

"It's important to do that in the right way. Today my focus is just on the draw and working out what that all means really."

Gareth Southgate insists England are among a select band of teams that can win the World Cup – but to land glory in Qatar they must be "close to perfect".

As he waited to learn his team's fate in Friday's draw, Southgate was taking confidence from the upturn in England's performance on big stages in recent years.

A semi-final run at the 2018 World Cup in Russia was followed by another appearance in the last-four stage of the Nations League, before England went close to landing a long-awaited trophy in the delayed Euro 2020 tournament.

Reaching the final of the European Championship means England should head to Qatar in November with plenty of belief as they attempt to land a second World Cup, some 56 years after Geoff Hurst's hat-trick against West Germany in the 1966 final.

"The World Cup is very special. It's the pinnacle. It's still the ultimate prize," said Southgate.

"What have we said to the team this week? That if we can get to a semi-final, we can get to a final – which we did. And if we can get to a final, we can win.

"To do that is incredibly difficult, and we'll have to be as close to perfect as can be. That's the challenge for us, not just when we get to Qatar, because we've got to be in the right condition, even before that. That's what we've got to work towards every day we're together."

Southgate, whose side have beaten Switzerland and Ivory Coast in the past week, added: "We know we've had consistent performances over a three, four-year period, and we are one of the teams – I think there are a few – that could win this tournament."

In charge since September 2016, Southgate has surpassed most initial expectations of his reign already, bringing through an exciting generation of young players who were only denied Euro 2020 glory by Italy in a penalty shoot-out.

England have qualified for the World Cup for the 16th time, and Qatar 2022 will mark their seventh appearance in a row, their longest streak in the competition.

The Three Lions have progressed past the quarter-finals only twice since their Wembley triumph in 1966, but they have not been to another final.

This time there are signs that England might be ready to take that step. They had the best goal difference in the group stage among European qualifiers, scoring 39 goals and conceding only three, and Southgate expects other national teams will be wary of his side.

He said, quoted widely in British media on Friday: "We've definitely got respectability and I think we will be a team other teams wouldn't look forward to playing. But that's a double-edged sword though because some teams are going to prepare differently for you.

"You're there to be shot at, and they are going to have a specific way of playing to try and stop you, but some will be a little bit fearful of you and might allow you more of the game, so from our point of view, what really matters is how it makes us feel about ourselves."

Qatar 2022 is fast approaching and the anticipation will surely be at its most intense so far when Friday's draw for the group stage is completed.

The Doha Exhibition and Convention Center plays host to the milestone event, which will see eight groups drawn from pots as the eventual storylines of the World Cup begin to unfurl.

Among the narratives that will start being mapped out on Friday is France's title defence, with Les Bleus hoping to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend their World Cup crown.

Ahead of the draw, Stats Perform provides a lowdown of all the key information…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, the draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section ahead of Mexico and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

It's nearly four years since Didier Deschamps became only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and coach, as he guided France to their second success on football's grandest stage.

The target now for Les Bleus is to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain their crown, and that journey begins on Friday with the draw for the group stage of Qatar 2022.

Four years is a long time to wait for anything, but the draw for the World Cup is always a milestone event that sees the anticipation taken up a notch.

The eyes of the football world will be on the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center, where the eight groups will be drawn and potential routes to December's finale can start being plotted.

But there is a little more to the draw than that…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, Friday's draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

England manager Gareth Southgate has come under criticism from Nasser Al Khater for questioning Qatar's human rights record.

Southgate confirmed earlier this month that his side intend to use the World Cup in Qatar to highlight concerns around the host country.

However, he also stressed that they must be "realistic" as any demonstration will be "complicated".

Qatar's stance towards women and the LGBTQ+ community was widely pointed to as a problem before FIFA awarded it the tournament in 2010. 

Meanwhile, the deaths of thousands of migrant workers have been reported during preparation for the finals, although Qatar's organising committee disputed what it called "inaccurate claims" around the number of fatalities.

Al Khater – the chief executive of Qatar 2022 – has rebutted Southgate's concerns, though, believing the England boss is unaware of the actual situation in the Gulf State.

"My question would be, who from the England squad has come to Qatar? My question to the coach is, has he been to Qatar? Is he basing his opinions and his public statements on what he has read? Because it is kind of an issue if you're basing your opinions and you are very vocal about that based on things you have read," Al Khater told Sky Sports.

"Somebody with a lot of influence, such as Southgate, somebody with a big audience that listens to what he says, ought to pick his words very carefully.

"And I think that before making statements like that, when it comes to the workers, he needs to come here and speak to workers and understand what workers get out of being here.

"There are isolated cases, those are the cases that make it to the media, however, I can assure him that if he comes here and speaks to the majority of the workers, they will tell you how they put their children through university, they will tell you how they've built their houses for them and their families.

"These are the stories that nobody hears, so I look forward to welcoming him here, I look forward to meeting him at the draw and he can listen to my opinion, he does not have to believe it, but at least he needs to go that far to understand different opinions and different cultures.

"No country is perfect, let's get that right and I do not think anybody can claim that, so if somebody is coming and claiming they are a perfect country, they need to really take a look at themselves."

Al Khater, who was pictured with Southgate at an event in December 2019, also suggested fans should not be concerned about travelling to Qatar.

"People are basing their opinions and fears on things they do not understand and that is usually what causes apprehension with human beings, a lack of understanding," he added.

"People are going to feel safe here, people are going to be very comfortable, what I can say to fans is, we are a modest country, we have our culture, we have our norms, what we ask of them is to respect it. What that means is, whether you are a gay couple, whether you are a heterosexual couple, we have the same norms, we look at it the same way.

"All we ask is for people to be respectful, like we are respectful when we travel around the world, and just to observe these cultural differences. Basically what it means is public displays of affection are frowned upon, that is simply it."

Roy Keane has taken aim at England manager Gareth Southgate, accusing him of "picking and choosing" when to support his players after Harry Maguire was booed by his own fans at Wembley on Tuesday.

Southgate came out in staunch defence of the centre-back, labelling the reaction from home supporters during the Three Lions' 3-0 friendly win against Ivory Coast as "an absolute joke".

However, Keane believes the former Middlesbrough boss made it "a bigger story than it is", and questioned why he had not offered the same support to other players in the past.

Speaking during ITV's post-match coverage of the game, the former Manchester United captain said: "Every player gets booed. There is going to be idiots at football matches – England have a lot of idiots.

"Gareth could have easily said tonight 'it is no big deal'. He actually played well tonight, just focus on that.

"He is almost picking and choosing when to support his players. [Raheem] Sterling had a bust-up two or three years ago and was bombed out of the squad. He's left other players out.

"I remember when [Maguire] was sent off last year against Denmark and [Southgate] didn't really support him when he was walking off the pitch.

"I think he has made it a bigger story than it is. Just get on with the game.

"He played well and he will get fans back on side with his performances, not by people reacting to a few boos or social media. Be big enough and man enough to get on with the game."

Maguire posted a message on Twitter on Wednesday morning simply saying "Enjoyable week playing for my country."

The United defender has had public support from a number of England team-mates since the game, with Jack Grealish, Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane among those who have criticised the fan reaction.

Harry Kane has launched a staunch defence of under-fire England team-mate Harry Maguire after the defender was jeered by fans, describing the reception as "just not right".

Manchester United captain Maguire started Tuesday's 3-0 win over Ivory Coast at Wembley, where goals from Ollie Watkins, Raheem Sterling and Tyrone Mings sealed victory for the hosts.

Despite having been a key figure under Gareth Southgate, even earning a spot in the UEFA Team of the Tournament for his performances at Euro 2020, Maguire has become a target for the boo boys in club and international colours.

Southgate labelled the reaction "an absolute joke", and Kane took to Twitter on Wednesday to echo those sentiments, adding that Maguire had the full backing of his international team-mates.

"We’ve worked hard to rebuild our connection with England fans in the last few years so to hear Harry Maguire booed at Wembley before kick-off was just not right," the Tottenham striker tweeted.

"The fact that he's been brilliant on the pitch and given us all so many great memories makes it even harder to understand. He doesn't deserve that reception.

"He's got full support in the changing room and should have the same from every England fan."

 

Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson also offered his support to Maguire via social media.

"I can't get my head around what happened at Wembley tonight," he wrote on Twitter.

"Harry Maguire has been a colossus for England. Without him, the progress made at the last two tournaments would not have been possible.​

"To be booed at his home stadium, for no reason? What have we become? What happened tonight was just wrong. As someone who wants to win with England, I feel fortunate to share a dressing room with him.

"We all feel the same!"

Gareth Southgate described the reaction of some England supporters towards Harry Maguire as "an absolute joke" after the defender was booed before kick-off on Tuesday.

Manchester United captain Maguire started the Three Lions' victory against the Ivory Coast, as goals for Ollie Watkins, Raheem Sterling and Tyrone Mings secured a 3-0 success at Wembley.

The centre-back has been a key performer for Southgate since breaking through into the senior set-up, and he was named to the UEFA Team of the Tournament for his performances at Euro 2020.

Yet since scoring in England's penalty shoot-out loss to Italy in last year's final, Maguire has struggled for form at club level, and has often found himself a scapegoat for United's on-field issues.

Those frustrations translated themselves into audible jeers from sections of the home support on Tuesday, leaving Southgate to launch a passionate defence of his player at the full-time whistle.

"I thought the reception was a joke, an absolute joke," manager Southgate said. "The way he has performed for us has been absolutely phenomenal.

"I don't get it. We're either all in this together or we're not. He's in an England shirt and [...] you support a player in an England shirt regardless.

"When you've played at the level he has for us and put the performances in he has, it should be total commitment behind him. I don't get it at all.

"His performance was pretty faultless really. He stepped out from the back really well for his first goal, was involved in the second one too.

"The team are totally united. We recognise everyone has difficult moments, but he's a top player and he will come through it.

"They are real England fans and some are influenced by whatever – social media or players that played previously who are influencing opinion.

"The club situation is obviously very difficult, but he's in an England shirt. I remember decades ago a few players being booed in an England shirt, and it's never been acceptable to me. Fans should always get behind their team."

 

Jack Grealish also came to Maguire's defence, with the Manchester City attacking midfielder hailing the defender's creative prowess as crucial to the Three Lions' success against Ivory Coast.

"Personally I think it's ridiculous," Grealish said. "Harry's been unbelievable for this country. Our first two goals have come from him.

"Not every centre-back can have those qualities. It was ridiculous for him to get booed, and it wasn't something the team liked one bit."

England boss Gareth Southgate has reiterated that defender Harry Maguire has what it takes to play "at the highest level" despite the Manchester United man's poor club form.

Maguire was an unused substitute for the Three Lions in Saturday's 2-1 friendly win over Switzerland at Wembley, but could return to the team against Ivory Coast on Tuesday.

Conor Coady, Ben White, and debutant Marc Guehi started as England played a back three in their comeback win over Switzerland, with Maguire earning criticism in recent weeks for his role in the Red Devils' underwhelming campaign.

Despite acknowledging that Maguire is going through a "difficult moment" with his club, Southgate reasserted his belief in the 29-year-old's quality.

With Maguire's club team-mates Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho left out of the Three Lions party for the March internationals, Southgate also highlighted the increased depth England possess in the forward areas.

"In terms of selection, it's always a difficult conundrum, because we've got players who we know have performed well in an England shirt," Southgate said. "[But] there's got to be some level of scrutiny on how people are playing for their clubs. 

"Everybody has a view on who we should or shouldn't be picking, in the end we need the best players possible, playing at their best level, to have a chance of winning.

"He [Maguire] has got us to a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final, so there's no doubt that he's capable of playing at the very highest level. 

"The club [United] are in a difficult moment, and there could be any number of reasons for that. 

"That doesn't mean that players can be poor for a couple of years and still find their way in, [but] it also depends on competition for positions, we've left some forward players out who haven't been in good form, but there are experienced replacements for those players."

Meanwhile, Southgate would not reveal whether captain Harry Kane would start against Ivory Coast, praising the Tottenham star's attitude after he drew level with Bobby Charlton's tally of 49 goals for the Three Lions.

Kane is now joint-second in England's all-time goalscoring charts, just four goals shy of Wayne Rooney's record haul of 53 goals, but Southgate hinted that he could choose to look at other options against The Elephants.

"If he had his way he'd play 90 minutes of every fixture," the England boss added. "Which is a brilliant quality to have, because if you're the captain, and want to be at every camp, playing every minute of every game, that sets the tone for everything else.

"The fact is, we've got a good squad, we want to keep people involved and give people opportunities, we need to see certain things across the week, to see how people can play at this level.

"I'll let Ivory Coast find out [whether Kane will start] when we put the team sheet out!"

Gareth Southgate insists Jordan Pickford has "always played well" for England and backed the Everton goalkeeper to continue as the Three Lions' number one.

Pickford's place in Southgate's side has been called into question throughout his time as first choice, though the form of Aaron Ramsdale for Arsenal this season has resulted in increased examination of who deserves to play between the posts.

Everton's form has not helped, with the Toffees struggling in 17th place in the Premier League and having conceded the joint fifth-highest number of goals in the competition this season (47).

Pickford, meanwhile, has conceded 44 of those goals, from 25 appearances. Even if he has been a relatively consistent performer in a disappointingly inconsistent Everton side, only three Premier League goalkeepers have conceded more so far this season, though the 28-year-old has been kept busy, with his 85 saves ranking as the sixth-highest.

His save percentage of 65.9 is the seventh-lowest of goalkeepers to have featured at least 10 times in the top flight, and is way down compared to Ramsdale's impressive 76.3 per cent.

Pickford has, however, slightly overperformed his expected goals on target conceded (xGOT), by 0.6, though Ramsdale again comes out top in this metric, with a goals prevented figure of 3.3.

 

Yet on the international stage, Pickford is still Southgate's undisputed number one. He made three saves as England came from behind to beat Switzerland 2-1 in a friendly at Wembley on Saturday, including a stunning stop from Fabian Frei when the visitors were 1-0 up.

"He's always played well for us and he has a good focus with us," Southgate told a news conference.

"He has a very good relationship with [goalkeeper coach] Martyn Margetson, who I think does an excellent job with him. So, he knows the structure around him. He knows clearly how we want him to play.

"There is competition for everybody's position and that's what we want. We don't want people just sitting, thinking confidently that there's no competition that doesn't help a team.

"I think the form of the other goalkeepers is important. But he showed again, big saves at important moments."

Pickford has kept 20 clean sheets from 43 England appearances, conceding 32 times and not making a single error that has resulted in a goal.

Indeed, at Euro 2020, he kept five clean sheets – more than any other goalkeeper – while his save percentage (88.9) was also the best in the competition.

 

"I thought he was very calm with the ball," added Southgate. "That allowed us to relieve the pressure by going back and out of the press.

"Of course, he's got every club in the bag because he can go long, which is a problem for teams as well. So a very good performance from him, especially the saves in the first half."

The Premier League statistics this season do not back up claims of Pickford's reliable distribution, however, with his passing accuracy of 48.9 per cent ranking the third worst of goalkeepers with over 10 Premier League appearances.

That data could be skewed slightly by the fact that only Burnley's Nick Pope has attempted more long passes this season (581 compared to 544), with Everton have preferred a more direct approach under previous manager Rafael Benitez.

Gareth Southgate is not worried about the prospect of Harry Kane struggling with pressure as he closes on Wayne Rooney's England goals record.

Kane scored the winner as the Three Lions beat Switzerland 2-1 in Saturday's friendly at Wembley, converting a penalty 12 minutes from time.

It took him level with Bobby Charlton on 49 goals for England, meaning only Rooney on 53 is now ahead of the Tottenham star.

Rooney, who coincidentally broke Charlton's initial record with a penalty against Switzerland in 2015, was considered by many to have passed his peak when he reached 50 goals, as he only went on to score another three.

There was also a degree of obsession around the achievement in the lead up, with the idea that Rooney struggled somewhat with the pressure a common theory.

Whether that truly was the case, only Rooney knows, but Southgate is convinced Kane will not be impacted in such a way.

Asked if he wanted Kane to break the record before the World Cup so it does not become a distraction, Southgate jovially replied: "I'd like him to break it in the World Cup final!

"I think he's quite calm about it, confident he can get there because his goals per game record is phenomenally good.

"I don't know where that would compare to Jimmy Greaves, but I imagine he's the only other player who'd be close [to Greaves], so I think he knows there's always going to be speculation.

"If he doesn't break it before [the World Cup] then [the country] will be saying he's out of form and should he be in the team.

"One way or another, the focus will be on him – he's used to dealing with it and I'm sure he'll be very calm about it whichever way."

But in the eyes of Southgate, there is much more to Kane than just his goals, with the England manager delighted to have such a talent who also acts as an example with his attitude.

"I think the names he's amongst now are incredible, aren't they? He'll appreciate that history and it'll mean a lot to him to be in with those people," Southgate said of Kane pulling level with Charlton.

"You'd have to say he looks favourite to go and do that [break Rooney's record], I don't want to put any sort of curse on that and say any more, but he wants the team to do well.

"He has this dual drive. What's great is that means that whenever he turns up, because he also has the individual ambition, there's never a camp where he doesn't look like he wants to play, or doesn't want to be involved or at the forefront of things.

"That's the mentality that then spreads through the rest of the group, so I'm very pleased for him and I think in the second half especially we were just about value for the win."

England are in action again on Tuesday when they host Ivory Coast. Three days later they will find out their opponents at Qatar 2022 when the World Cup draw is made.

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