ENGLAND getting to this stage in the World Cup, now in the last eight, I think has won more people over than ever, including the players themselves.

I think it’s proved that other countries still respect England and I think that they would rather play them in the final than anything leading up to it.

It was interesting to see Harry Maguire this week say there has definitely been a positive shift in the team’s mindset. He was part of the team which reached the semi-finals in 2018, but feels there is more belief this time around that England really can win the World Cup.

Of course to get away from the initial 32 teams and into the knockout stages was a big boost.

To then get through the last 16 with a comfortable 3-0 win over Senegal and now get into the last eight helps the manager and his staff get the positive thinking in the dressing rooms as well as on the pitch.

Facing France is never an easy fixture, but I think the way that England got to this stage has proved that, in my opinion, they are good enough to get through, certainly to the semi-finals.

We have a vast number of supporters following the team over in Qatar and that, of course, is a big help.

But from a manager’s point of view, I am pleased for Gareth Southgate. He has obviously won over the playing side, but also it would appear the FA as well.

They apparently want him to stay until Euro 2024, which would mean his contract going on for at least another two or three years.

And that is regardless of whatever the result is against the French tonight.

The player situation hit the headlines of course when Raheem Sterling had to return the long distance from Qatar back to England, after his house had been broken into.

I can imagine how he felt having three young children and a wife. But it turns out apparently they were not at home when there was a break in.

He has now returned to Qatar to link up with England again, in time for the France game.

But it surely is a reminder to any players, whether it is football or any other sport, who travel abroad and everyone in the public knows this, as it is in the press, should make sure that their domestic side is looked after. That could be something like relatives staying with the wives and children, or even making sure that someone is on guard if and when the family are out.

Obviously all club supporters have been missing out on fixtures and are wondering what their teams are up to.

But as I’ve said before, it has some positives, like injured players are given a chance to get fit for the restart.

And teams that have not had the best start to the season, it gives their manager the chance to put things right.

Saints have been out in Spain this week for some training, with players such as Tino Livramento and Kyle Walker-Peters travelling after their injuries, and Nathan Jones has also had the chance to look at some of the club’s young academy talents.

It will be interesting to see what difference this break makes to certain clubs.

But in our case, no matter what has happened or not happened, cup ties or derby matches are always top of the list.

Saints restart with a cup game against Lincoln on December 21, before then hosting Brighton in the league on Boxing Day.

The manager and his staff will be pleased to get back to normal training and the supporters will undoubtedly be delighted to be meeting up with their fellow supporters, who have been missing out on not being able to say what the players have been doing wrong or right or what the manager should be changing when they meet up in that happy hour in the cafes and pubs etcetera before kick-off.

I noticed Michael O’Neill has returned as manager of Northern Ireland, having had a spell managing at Stoke City.

I wish him well, having been in that Northern Ireland job myself at one stage, because I know better than anyone how difficult it is.

How many players, for instance, that qualify for Northern Ireland are there in the Premier League?

This is the same now for other countries like Scotland as nearly every Premier League game features top talent from all over the world, not just Britain.

So good luck to him.