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Gareth Southgate urged his England players to continue to perform with “freedom” when they take on Colombia in Moscow for a place in the World Cup quarterfinals.

England have not reached the last eight of the tournament since losing on penalties to Portugal in 2006, and Southgate has described Tuesday’s match as his country’s “biggest game for a decade.”

But despite the high stakes, Southgate insisted that he wants his team to show the same level of positivity and ambition they displayed in group victories over Tunisia and Panama.

“We have to focus on the game tomorrow,” he said in a news conference. “We have a very difficult opponent, a very good side who we respect.

“We’ve got to concentrate on our football, playing in the style we have throughout the tournament, playing with the same mentality, and make sure we show the resilience and play with the freedom that we have up to this point.

“The thing I want more than anything else is the players to continue to attack the tournament as we have. That shouldn’t change now we are in the knockout phase.

“If anything we should feel freer. It is a game we are really looking forward to, the sort of match you want to be involved in. It is going to be a fantastic evening.”

Spain’s shock elimination at the hands of Russia has left England as the only former World Cup winner in their half of the draw. Should they beat Colombia, Southgate’s men face a quarterfinal match against Sweden or Switzerland followed by a potential semifinal against Croatia or hosts Russia.

Excitement among England supporters is building and while he is keen to manage expectations, Southgate added that he is encouraging his players to dream big.

“It is 10 years since we have won a knockout fixture,” he warned. “For this team this is a brilliant opportunity to go beyond where more experienced teams have before them. The lads have got the chance to write their own stories.”

Southgate has no injury worries ahead of the match after Dele Alli and John Stones trained with the rest of the England squad on Monday, but he admitted that Fabian Delph could miss out after being granted permission to fly back to England for the birth of his third child.

“There’s only one day in your life when your children are born,” Southgate said of Delph’s situation. “Some things are more important than football, and one is family.

“I think you have to be there for your family; he’s buying his wife curries and whatever to speed along the process! But I don’t know if he’ll be back for the match.”

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