England have taken enormous strides since Gareth Southgate took charge but he says his squad still have “everything to prove” as they seek to build on last year’s surprise run to the World Cup semi-finals.
There can be no denying that the 2018 World Cup saw a tremendous change in attitude from England after a disastrous Euro 2016. The atmosphere in and around the team was overwhelmingly positive, acting as a catalyst to England’s best World Cup finish since 1990. The semi-final defeat to Croatia was hard to take, but there were promising signs with a young team that is itself becoming a ‘golden generation’ in its own right.
Southgate’s side began their qualifying campaign for next year’s Euro 2020 finals with resounding victories over the Czech Republic and Montenegro to lead Group A ahead of Saturday’s clash with Bulgaria at Wembley.
Euro 2020 qualifiers: Gareth Southgate says England still have everything to prove despite solid run in the qualifying campaign
Gareth Southgate addresses the media ahead of England’s Euro 2020 qualifying fixture against Bulgaria. Reuters
The growing sense of optimism was tempered somewhat in June when England’s frailties were exposed as they lost 3-1 to the Netherlands in the Nations League semi-finals.
England’s qualification from Euro 2020 qualification group A has been described as a ‘formality’ by almost every pundit around, especially after their effortless 4-0 trouncing of Bulgaria at the weekend. The remaining games: Czech Republic (A), Bulgaria (A), Montenegro (H), Kosovo (A) have the potential to ruin England’s hopes of yet another perfect Euro qualifying run, but qualification as the don of Group A is in no question.
Victory over Bulgaria, and against Kosovo on Tuesday, will make qualification for next year’s finals a near formality but Southgate believes England must not get ahead of themselves.
“We have everything to prove in terms of world rankings. We are competitive against any team but any team is capable of beating us,” he told a news conference on Friday.
“We have to strive to improve the mentality of the team, they are hungry to do that. We want to push each other every day in training and take those performances onto the field.
“We have got to take care of qualification. Over the last couple of years we have started to put together an exciting team that hopefully play in a style the supporters warm to.”
The nation has already seen signs that Southgate isn’t content with simply using the same group of players again. That was the mistake made by most of his predecessors, with Roy Hodgson at Euro 2016 being the worst offender, having prioritised half-fit players with greater international experience over those who were fit and in form.
Right now, there is plenty of youth coming through in England, and so too are there other players who have improved considerably under Gareth Southgate.
The huge frustration with the England team of the 2000s and early 2010s was the underperformance from key players, particularly at post-season international tournaments, after a long hard season spent at the top of the Premier League.
More recently, however, the likes of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling have proven that there are still players that have the mentality – and stamina – to prioritise international and club duties equally. Notably, Southgate is letting both play with the freedom they crave, and it allows the whole front line to express themselves.
If Southgate is able to maintain the current feeling of momentum and positivity, then the team might be set to once more exceed expectations. Overall, plenty of attacking threats from the midfield and wide areas are available, and that will be difficult for any team to cope with.
On current evidence, the Three Lions certainly can do it – although beating the Germans on penalties is not exactly Southgate’s area of expertise.