England building on momentum

England manager Gareth Southgate earned rave reviews for the meticulous preparation that allowed England to surpass expectations by making it to the semi-finals of the World Cup in June.
England manager Gareth Southgate earned rave reviews for the meticulous preparation that allowed England to surpass expectations by making it to the semi-finals of the World Cup in June.PHOTO: AFP

Good showing against ex-world champions Spain today will reinforce World Cup highs

LONDON • England start on the road to Euro 2020 with a spring in their step, less than two months after a World Cup campaign that rekindled the nation's love for the team.

A run to the last four in Russia, before the crushing disappointment of their semi-final defeat by Croatia, restored pride in the national team, with fans hopeful that even better things are to come.

And a good showing against 2010 World Cup winners Spain in their Uefa Nations League opener at Wembley today will again be positive reinforcement for a Three Lions side that have long been pilloried for flattering to deceive.

Gareth Southgate took the third-youngest group to Russia and the England boss has stuck to his youth policy, throwing Manchester United's 23-year-old left-back Luke Shaw and Liverpool defender Joe Gomez, 21, into the mix.

At 28, Fabian Delph is the oldest member of Southgate's squad for both the Spain encounter - which will be former Barcelona boss' Luis Enrique's first game in charge - and the friendly with Switzerland on Tuesday, with veterans Gary Cahill, Jamie Vardy and Ashley Young dropping out from the final 23 that went to the World Cup.

As well as giving the team a taste for further success, England's last-four run in Russia has also inspired Gomez and Shaw.

"The World Cup is the biggest stage for any footballer," said Shaw, who failed to make the cut after playing a bit-part role for United last season. "It was wonderful to see how well we did as a team and how far we got was brilliant. But also it was quite gutting not to be there."

LET'S BEAT THE BEST

This Nations League thing is a really good showcase for England against the top teams in the world and we want to be beating those top teams.

JORDAN PICKFORD, England goalkeeper, on keeping the momentum from the World Cup in Russia, where they reached the last four.

Gomez, however, had been firmly in Southgate's World Cup plans after starring in friendlies against Brazil and Germany, but an ankle injury ended his season early and ruined his dream.

"The squad doing what they did in the summer gives the opportunity to try to build on that," he said. "To do so, we've got to carry on that level of performance, reaching semi-finals and finals."

Former Germany captain Philipp Lahm also believes that England's World Cup exploits can lay the foundations for a period of sustained success, after noticing similarities between Southgate's men and the Die Mannschaft team that finished third in consecutive World Cups before they went on to lift the title in Brazil four years ago.

"Everyone was helping each other and this is what you need to be able to compete at the highest level. Good team spirit is what you need to be successful," he said.

"Looking at our team from 2006 to 2014, it helped, writing history together... This knowledge helped us compete at the highest level."

Southgate rightly earned rave reviews for the meticulous preparation that allowed England to surpass expectations by making it to the semi-finals of a World Cup for the first time in 28 years.

But he now has to guard against an emotional hangover from the summer's highs and lows to build on that momentum.

The inaugural Nations League campaign helps Southgate's task, with games against top-tier opposition a better measure than traditional friendlies of how confident England can be of winning the 2020 European Championship on home soil.

"We've got to keep the momentum," said goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. "This Nations League thing is a really good showcase for England against the top teams in the world and we want to be beating those top teams."

An early chance for revenge against Croatia next month will also add extra spice to the three-team group, with the winners progressing to the semi-finals in June.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2018, with the headline 'England building on momentum'. Print Edition | Subscribe