THE World Cup is getting to the second, knockout stages after starting with 32 countries and we are now down to the last 16.

Like anyone in Britain, I was hoping that the two countries going through from Group B would be England and Wales.

But it wasn’t to be. When England beat Wales, unfortunately it was Rob Page’s side coming home.

Of course, Gareth Bale played a key role in getting Wales to the tournament for the first time in 64 years. Supporters here, as I’ve mentioned before, will remember him as a youngster at Saints.

Earlier in his Wales career, he wore the number three and has gone from being a left-back, to playing higher up the pitch with number 11 on his back for the likes of his country and Real Madrid. That shows how much his ability has risen.

At his age, 33, I would have thought he may be hanging up his boots, but he has already said he wants to carry on playing for Wales as long as he is wanted.

He is still under contract at Los Angeles with reportedly the option to extend it but I am sure there would be other clubs that would want to give him the opportunity to carry on his club football leading up to the next international competitions – with European qualifiers starting in March.

Who knows? He may be chased by Saints, where he started off his career. I believe players like him are actually being followed by a film group, which would make a lovely story for them.

Anyway, let’s look forward to the next stage with England at the World Cup. They knocked out Wales but full marks to Gareth Southgate and the team.

Let’s hope they can beat another country who they next and who have surprised many in Senegal.

I am sure that Gareth will have a good atmosphere in the camp, bearing in mind that every player will want to be in the first XI.

With more than double that amount of players in the squad, I am sure there will be plenty of endeavour in the training sessions.

The fact that England are staying out longer in Qatar, of course, makes me wonder how some supporters will get on.

It could well be that wherever they have established themselves now will never be that far away, as Qatar itself is apparently about the size of Yorkshire.

The side of international football that people see most of is the 90 minutes on the pitch but there are so many more hours to fill in with the training.

During my time with Graham Taylor and England, you didn’t have to concentrate much on fitness sessions. It was more important to organise the time in between games, after training sessions etcetera.

Whether Gareth and his crew can briefly take the players away from football to visits around the area, who knows?

But that is an important thing to keep the players pulling together as a team, making sure they are getting resting times and also ensuring they can organise enough in the off days to keep the atmosphere between the players as a good one.

That is so important, you don’t want to see too many separate groups on and off the field, rather than all pulling together as one.

The World Cup of course shows how important football is to everyone away from Europe as well as our Premier League.

After Saudi Arabia shocked Argentina, a rumour came about on social media that their entire 26-man squad was to receive a Rolls Royce Phantom from crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. They are normally worth more than £360,000.

It has since been denied by their manager, but I imagine it would have brought many jokes in the dressing room – the cars could have been worth more than some players!

Saints and an array of other Premier League clubs are now back in training, getting ready for their fixtures later in the month.

With Armel Bella-Kotchap and Mohammed Salisu still away due to their international commitments, the majority of the squad will be back.

The break did have some advantage, with some players who had been carrying injuries having the chance to work with the medical staff.

It will be just like pre-season with Nathan Jones and his new staff. There is a whole month nearly for players to get back ready for the level needed. There is also a cup game to look forward to as the first game back.

Looking at the league, whilst on paper things don’t look too good, Saints are not too many points behind mid-table and a few wins in a row I am sure will cheer everybody up.