Gareth Southgate says England know they are “close” to ending their long wait to win a major trophy as they prepare to try to seal World Cup qualification.
The Three Lions suffered the heartbreak of losing to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley in July, three years after crashing out of the World Cup in Russia at the semi-final stage.
It is 55 years since England won their only major trophy in the 1966 World Cup on home soil, but they are well on course to get another opportunity in Qatar next year. England are four points clear at the top of Group I ahead of an away clash with Andorra on Saturday and an encounter with Hungary at Wembley three days later. Southgate has been impressed with the way his players reacted to missing out on Euro 2020 glory and feels there is a belief they can avoid more agony.
He said: “Ultimately what I like last month [when they thrashed Andorra and Hungary before drawing in Poland] is that there was no hangover in terms of the disappointment and no complacency in terms of the attitude of the players. There was a desire to improve, to make sure the next steps are the right ones and keep the standards every day. Of course we’ve got to qualify first, that’s the task over the next five to six days, to get six points.
“But there is a definite understanding that we are close, that we are ranked well in the world and that our results over a period of time have been consistent, but we know we ultimately want to go one step further next time.” It is just over five years since Southgate initially took over as manager on an interim basis before landing the role for the long term.
The ex-England defender says there is much more desire in the camp compared to when he took the reins in 2016. “Different periods across that timeline, I think the first thing we wanted to do was restore confidence and then across the period of time optimism,” he said. “I think it’s best embodied in terms of the players in that I can remember at that time it was difficult to get players to come sometimes. Now we had three lads called into the squad late and they couldn’t wait to be here.
“There’s lots of markers we could use, but for me in terms of working with the team and the enthusiasm of the team the connection with the country I think they are probably the things at the utmost in my mind.” Southgate brushed off concerns about Harry Kane playing on an artificial pitch in Andorra with his history of ankle trouble and says he has no new injuries to contend with.