Gareth Southgate believes England are more advanced at this point of their Euro 2020 campaign than they were for the World Cup in 2018, when they reached the semi-final, as he relished the conviction that is running through his young team.
The manager watched them round off qualification for the finals next summer with a 4-0 win over Kosovo in Pristina, a result that was gilded by three goals in the final 11 minutes and ensured they will enter the group phase draw in Bucharest on Saturday week as one of the top six seeds.
Harry Kane scored again, making him the first England player to do so in every tie of a qualification programme, while Harry Winks and Mason Mount registered their first goals at senior international level. Marcus Rashford scored the other one.
“I would say that we’re definitely further ahead than we were heading into the Russia World Cup but we made massive strides in this period [between the end of qualification and the tournament],” Southgate said. “We’ve got to make sure that to get the level of performance next summer, we have to improve in the way that we did over that spell.
“I think the team have belief, for sure. You can see the confidence. They don’t come into these matches worrying about what might go wrong. They’ve got the confidence to control games with possession and they know they’re going to score goals.
“What we don’t know, because we haven’t had those tests more recently against the top eight or 10 [nations], is exactly how we’re going to cope in those moments. And to win the European Championship is, at the moment, no easier than the World Cup. The final four at the World Cup were all European and you’ve got to add Spain, Germany, Portugal and all the others into that. It’s a really high-level tournament.”
Southgate admitted he did not know whether it was a good thing to be a top seed but there is no doubt that winning matches is a good habit. England can reflect on having secured seven victories from their eight qualification ties. They have scored 37 goals in the process.
“The reality is we don’t know how important the seeding is but, for sure, if we’d have finished second and got a stinker of a draw, then we’d be getting pelters,” he said. “So, better to win the group and control as much of our destiny as we can. The good thing is that whoever comes to play us knows they’re in for a tough game.
“We’ve got to have some confidence about what we’re doing. That said, we’ve got a lot to keep improving on and we know that. None of us are complacent in any way. We keep pushing the players for the fine details of the game all the time and they want that. They’re hungry for that, which is a really good sign for us.
“Our forward players and I mean, Raheem [Sterling], Harry [Kane], Marcus [Rashford] are so exciting to work with. Then, with the younger ones that are supporting that. They thrive from each other, they create for each other, they are all scoring goals – which wasn’t the case 18 months ago, particularly for Marcus and Raheem. But they work so hard for the team. That’s, for me, the biggest thing.”
Winks added: “It’s a dream come true to score for my country. It’s one I never really thought would happen. There’s always moments we need to improve on but we were excellent today and ruthless.”