The video assistant referees at the World Cup can award goals and penalties, but Jordan Pickford could be forgiven for wishing they could confirm crucial, world-class saves that change the course of tournaments.
It went unnoticed at Al Bayt that Pickford had pulled off one of the saves of the competition when he deflected Ismaila Sarr’s close-range shot over the crossbar. Senegal were in the ascendancy, it was goalless, and nobody will know how England would have responded to falling behind for the first time in Qatar. So, it will go down as the greatest save that never was.
All the focus was on whether John Stones had handled the ball rather than the fact Pickford bravely raced off his line and spread himself Peter Schmeichel-style. The Everton goalkeeper’s clenched fist said it all – he had saved it – but he would hardly be asking referee Ivan Barton to change his decision to award a goal kick.
“You’ve got to celebrate it,” Pickford said. “As defenders you get rewards because we’re scary up top. When we are working hard off the ball and I’m making saves, it gives the lads the licence to go and score, and we have every chance.”
Pickford pulled off another save to deny Boulaye Dia to give England a platform to reach the quarter-finals. “I was in my moment again,” was how Pickford described it. On Saturday, he will earn his 50th cap and believes France should be worried about England’s threat as much as Kylian Mbappe is feared.
“They have to be worried about our threat as well,” he said. “Not just the starting XI. Look at the depth we have on the bench, lads who make an impact. Everyone is contributing to goals and the defensive record as well.
“Reigning champions. They’ve got Mbappe and other individuals who are top players and we know it will be a tough game, but it is World Cup football and you have to relish these moments. You might not get another chance to beat France.”
Pickford talks about the “G.K. Union” at England’s base in Al Wakrah, where Nick Pope and Aaron Ramsdale have to support the No 1 while also wanting eventually to take his place. The reserves cannot sulk and must be at the right level for meaningful training.
“Me, Popey and Rammers work really well together, we never have a day off,” Pickford said. “Every time we train we train properly, every single day. Then at the end of the day we have finishing drills against the top boys.
“Harry Kane and Rashy [Marcus Rashford] every day in training is going to get the best out of you because they are ruthless and you are doing well to save shots and when you do, it gives you confidence. The level is really high.
“We have three keepers performing really well for their clubs and we come away as one when we come to England. We all want to be No 1 but there is only one shirt to wear. Whoever plays, everyone is always supportive. That works really well and the togetherness we have as a union is really good.”
England's World Cup schedule
Round of 16
England's quarter-final is at 7pm on Saturday, December 10. They play France, who beat Poland in the second round.
There are two quarter-finals on the day before, at 3pm and 7pm, and another at 3pm on the Saturday.
If England reach the semi-finals, they could meet either Morocco or Portugal. The semi-finals will take place on Tuesday December 13 and Wednesday December 14. England would be playing on the latter date.
The World Cup final will take place on Sunday December 18 at 3pm (GMT) at the Lusail Iconic Stadium. If England are in the final, they could be pitted against Argentina or Brazil.
Group B results
Who is in the England squad?
Southgate named a 26-man squad for the tournament, including call-ups for James Maddison and Conor Gallagher.
Could an England player win the Golden Boot?
Very possibly. Marcus Rashford or Bukayo Saka look the most likely candidates.
England fan numbers in Doha will be boosted for the quarter-final against France as the Qatar government has eased visa rules for those without tickets.
Relaxations to the Hayya card system coincides with concerns around empty seats at some last-16 ties and will appeal to expat Britons trying to secure a last-minute seat. England’s clash against France was described by sources close to the Qatar government as the “hottest ticket in town”.
Ticket reselling websites are already selling them on the black market for upwards of £350.
However, Ashley Brown, of the Football Supporters’ Association, said many English-based fans were still resisting the temptation to fly out at this stage. “I think numbers for the quarter-final will only increase slightly from round of 16,” he said of those travelling directly from the UK. “Most travelling fans will hold out for the semi-final or final.”
In total, around 3,500 fans who have travelled from England can be expected at the Al Bayt Stadium, but numbers are significantly boosted by local England-supporting fans and expats.
Qatar’s Ministry of the Interior first ruled on Friday that fans should now be able to enter Qatar without a ticket in a shake-up of temporary entry restrictions.
Visitors still have to apply for a Hayya card, however, providing evidence of hotel accommodation and paying a fee of around £100. Fifa said in a statement midway through the group stages that official figures show the average overall match attendance was at 94 per cent.
However, in the less well attended matches, such as Spain’s opening fixture, there have been reports of organisers letting some locals in for free at half-time.
More tickets were said to have been made available ahead of the event as it emerged the broadcasters would need less than expected room.
One issue for fans appears to be cost, with studies showing this tournament is 40 per cent more expensive for match tickets compared to Russia 2018.
Commuting from Dubai has been popular with England fans because of the emirate’s looser alcohol and partying rules.
Sources close to the tournament confirmed tickets remain available directly from Fifa.
Scenes between fans have been largely peaceful, although there were reports of minor altercations between supporters during Sunday’s 3-0 victory against Senegal.
Generally, however, behaviour has been impeccable, with the UK’s national police lead, Chief Constable Mark Roberts, reporting no arrests.
The absence of alcohol in stadiums is believed to have been a factor in improving behaviour. Some fans have complained of issues relating to the Fifa apps, however, with many forced to queue for hours in blistering heat while technical glitches were sorted.