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England ‘building belief’ not only for World Cup, but for long-term success

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Gareth Southgate is presently performing a complex balancing act: he’s simultaneously attempting to guide England into Sunday’s World Cup final, while being forced to stave off rising — and potentially crippling — expectations for his young squad, but also using his side’s trip to Wednesday’s semifinal as a motivational point for various iterations of the national team.

[ MORE: France edge past Belgium to reach World Cup final ]

Such is the task the manager must meet head on when the Three Lions suddenly — but expectedly — become one of the feel-good stories and most endearing sides at a major tournament. It’s an identity and mentality that Southgate and Co., have been working to forge over a number of years and tournaments at various youth levels — quotes from the Guardian:

“I’ve been involved in all the plans really, right through the age groups. To have seen our younger teams have success they have has been hugely rewarding.

“We know our academies at club level are producing really good players, technically good players. We made a lot of changes with the national teams that helped us be successful. We believe we have to continue doing that, to constantly evolve and improve. With this team, it’s the same. The experiences of the last few weeks, the milestones they’ve hit, will be a great reference point moving forward. The more big games we’re involved in, the more pressure situations they’re involved in and emerge from successful, the more belief it will build.

“We have a core group of young players in this squad we believe will take us forward, and others coming through the age-group teams with good experiences who have belief they can win, but also expectations that we should be in quarterfinals, semifinals and finals more regularly. That’s what we wanted to do with our younger teams. All of that work is great but you really have to achieve at senior level in the end for that to be fulfilled. And we have a great opportunity now to get to a World Cup final.”

As for what he expects from the Three Lions beyond this World Cup, Southgate firmly believes that “this team is nowhere near the level they’re going to be capable of”:

“Sometimes you have to go through difficult times as a team, and failures, to learn and to improve. There were a lot of young players involved in the team two years ago who suffered a huge disappointment, and we could have ignored that and tried to be positive and look to the future. But we felt it was important to learn from it, unpack it a bit, and find out why we’d gone so long without winning a knockout game.

“We’ve been fortunate the FA has backed us financially to bring in a lot of staff, experts in lots of fields: physical, medical, coaching, to offer good support for the players. We’ve planned really well, and learned as much as we can. We’re starting to see through the age groups some success because of that, but it’s an ongoing process. This team is nowhere near the level they’re going to be capable of, partly because of their age, but also because they’ll have more big-match experiences over the next few years. We are excited about the future, but we want to make the most of this opportunity as well.”

Jorge Sampaoli resigns as Santos boss

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Brazilian club Santos confirmed Tuesday evening that manager Jorge Sampaoli has resigned as boss.

Sampaoli, who won the 2015 Copa America in charge of Chile but could not recreate that success with the Argentinian national team, signed on with Santos a year ago and guided them to a second-place finish in the Brazilian top flight, 16 points behind runaway champions Flamengo. His contract had another year, expiring in the winter of 2020, but with reports of offers from multiple clubs, he has stepped down.

The most widely reported destination is fellow Brazilian club Palmeiras, whom many believe Sampaoli has already entered talks with. He has also been linked with Argentinian club Racing, and his name has cropped up on occasion with the Arsenal vacancy, although that seems like a longshot. It was said in late October that Sampaoli had an offer from an unnamed La Liga club, but those rumors have cooled.

His reason for leaving Santos after just one successful season in charge is unconfirmed, but rumors are circulating that Sampaoli had incredibly ambitious transfer plans for the offseason, and when club president Jose Carlos Peres could not guarantee his support, the relationship became strained.

The 2019 season was mostly successful for Sampaoli at Santos, finishing second in the league table, but the secondary competitions were somewhat disappointing. They received a tough first-round draw in the Copa Sudamericana, falling to River Plate on away goals. They were also ousted from the Copa do Brasil in the Round of 16, falling 2-1 to an Atletico Minero side that finished 13th in the league table.

Tierney out months as Arsenal injuries pile up

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According to multiple reports, including Mark Mann-Bryans of PA Sport and Charles Watts of Goal.com, Arsenal full-back Kieran Tierney could be out up to three months after dislocating his shoulder in the 3-1 win over West Ham on Monday.

Tierney was withdrawn in the 29th minute after an awkward fall, using the bottom of his shirt as a makeshift sling. The club is still deciding on whether he will require surgery, according to Mann-Bryans, and that decision will ultimately determine the length of time he will miss. Still, even without surgery, it could leave him sidelined for a month or more.

The 22-year-old has struggled with injuries since joining the Gunners this past summer, missing the first seven games of the year with a hip injury. He has seen action in just five Premier League games thus far, and again could be sidelined for a significant spell. He could also end up missing Scotland’s critical playoff match against Israel in late March depending on his recovery timeline and fitness level.

Tierney’s injury is not the only one Arsenal is currently sweating. Granit Xhaka will miss the Europa League group stage finale against Standard Liege with a concussion, while Hector Bellerin is struggling with a hamstring problem. “Hector had a feeling in his hamstring during the warm-up [before West Ham] and we took the decision,” said interim manager Freddie Ljungberg after the win over the Hammers. “Not going to force anyone to play if they don’t feel 100%.”

Dani Ceballos is still sidelined with a hamstring injury suffered against Vitoria in October Europa League play and won’t return to training until later this month, while Rob Holding is a question mark this week after missing the West Ham game thanks to a bruised knee.

Arsenal, currently sitting ninth in the Premier League table and is scheduled to host Manchester City this coming Sunday following the trip to Belgium. They have upcoming games against Everton, Bournemouth, Chelsea, and Manchester United through the festive period.

Report: Leicester City looking to give Maddison, Soyuncu pay raises

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According to a report by Sky Sports, Leicester City has started negotiations with young stars James Maddison and Caglar Soyuncu about new contacts with increased pay.

The pair of 23-year-olds have current deals that run through the summer of 2023, so there is no urgency to lock them up long-term, but the Foxes are hoping to ease any lingering doubts about their futures at the club by rewarding good play on the field with a salary that fits the bill.

Soyuncu has been one of the league’s breakout defensive stars this season, partnering with veteran Jonny Evans to produce the Premier League’s stingiest defense thus far. The Foxes sold Harry Maguire in the summer for a record fee, and thanks to Soyuncu haven’t missed a beat.

Maddison, meanwhile, has proven himself the heartbeat of the Leicester City attack. He is assisting or taking nearly six shots per 90 minutes, and is on pace to score double-digit goals in league play.

The Sky Sports report says both club and players are “relaxed” about securing a new deal, given the lack of urgency required, but locking down the pair with improved salaries will ward off any significant noise about their futures – at least, for now.

The 2 Robbies podcast: Liverpool, Chelsea through to UCL knockouts

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle on Liverpool’s nervy 2-0 win against Red Bull Salzburg to take first place in Group E of the Champions League (1:55), Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Lille to secure a place in the Round of 16 (13:15) and who is the current favorite to win it all (20:45).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Plus, what Arsenal’s come-from-behind 3-1 win at West Ham means for both London clubs (29:10) and the Robbies discuss what they’re looking forward to most at the next Live Premier League Mornings Fan Fest in Miami Beach (46:05).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]