Published 27 August 2021 4 min read
England Men's Senior Team
Gareth's true faith
England manager urges his squad to keep on improving as they resume World Cup qualifying campaign with triple test
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Gareth Southgate insists his faith in the England players has never waivered and hailed their consistency, heading into September’s 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying triple header.
Southgate has overseen a Three Lions side who followed up their 2018 World Cup semi-final with a third-place finish in the 2018-19 UEFA Nations League before reaching the final of EURO 2020 earlier this summer.
England will be back in action on Thursday when they travel to Hungary in the first of three 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in the coming week.
A home game with Andorra at Wembley Stadium connected by EE follows on Sunday 5 September, before another trip, this time to Poland, three days later.
“We've been involved in three competitions in the last four years where we have been in the semi-final of each and no other country has been in the semi-final of two of those, so that gives you an indication of how competitive international football is and how many good teams there are, especially in Europe," he said.
"It is a very strong continent in terms of the quality of teams and the quality of opponents.
“But it also shows the consistency of our players, the core of whom have been in all three of those tournaments, although we have obviously had a lot of young ones who have come in, and they have shown a lot of consistency.
“We've always wanted to be knocking on the door of the latter stages of competitions because eventually you end up learning how to win semi-finals and how to win finals – that is normally the process when you look at a lot of our successful club teams that they have had to go through. That is the way we view it.
“We know we were the youngest team in the last 16 and we were the least experienced in terms of international caps, so there's no doubt that individually these players are going to improve and continue to improve and that has to be our aim as well as a team.
“We've learned a huge amount from the wins we've had and from the disappointment from the World Cup semi-final and the final this time. But we're obviously a lot closer than we have been for a long, long period of time.”
During Thursday’s press conference, Southgate was asked whether he believed next year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar was England’s best chance of winning a major tournament.
He replied: “We've always had squads of players who have had opportunities to win things and squads with far more experience in terms of European club titles than this team has got - we have some European winners, which is fantastic.
“We were nine games unbeaten in the summer in normal time and extra-time and we were behind for nine minutes in the whole tournament so I don’t have any less faith in the group of players than at any time during the summer.”
Southgate has named a 25-man squad for September’s internationals, with Patrick Bamford given a first senior call-up and there were recalls for Nick Pope, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jesse Lingard.
England currently sit top of Group I with three wins from three but their next opponents Hungary are also unbeaten and are only two points behind, whilst it took a Harry Maguire goal five minutes from time to beat Poland back in March.
“We have two critical away games in particular, with the trips to Budapest and to Warsaw, and we have a lot of work to do. Everyone is talking about us winning a World Cup but we have to qualify first. Those two games, against good teams and in packed stadiums, are going to be [particularly] difficult for us.”
Hungary may have finished bottom of their UEFA EURO 2020 pool but Southgate was quick to highlight they were arguably in the toughest group alongside France, Germany and Portugal.
Despite facing a host of household names during those three games, Hungary secured draws with France and Germany and were level with Portugal going into the 84th minute, before three late goals for the opposition.
And the boss is under no illusion of the challenge his men face inside the Puskas Arena next Thursday, saying: “We know that Hungary’s performances for a few years now have been very good and very positive, even going back to the previous European Championships when they played so well in France.
“We know they were in the most difficult group in this European Championships and they had excellent results really. Even in the game with Portugal that they lost, it was 0-0 until 84 minutes so we're expecting a very difficult game and we know we need to be at our best possible level to go and win.
“It's a really important match in terms of qualifying for Qatar and our own level is difficult to predict because all of our players only had a short break and are just back with their clubs.
“Everybody is in a different place so September is always complicated in that way but we will prepare in the best way we can and we know what a difficult game we face.”