LONDON • Gareth Southgate will be "realistic" with his expectations for England at the World Cup next year and has called for patience as he seeks to further the development of his young side before the tournament in Russia.
England travel to Lithuania for their final qualifier today, with progress having been secured from Group F and Southgate is expected to offer game time to some of his fringe players in Vilnius.
England host Germany and Brazil in prestigious friendlies next month, elite sides who will pose a very different threat from those encountered in qualification, with the manager acutely aware the team's relationship with their support has to be rebuilt after recent uninspiring performances.
There were boos at Wembley on Thursday, when Slovenia were eventually beaten in stoppage time, and Southgate has conceded a disconnect exists between the set-up and the fans.
"We have to keep winning football matches, and the more we can play football which excites people and score goals will, of course, start to win people over," he said. "We've got some good characters and personalities (in the squad) that maybe the public don't necessarily understand fully or know properly.
"At the moment they just need the chance to grow. My job is to support them and make sure we give them that opportunity."
Dele Alli will return today following a one-match ban and Southgate is expected to make a few tweaks to his line-up from Wembley, with Jack Butland, Michael Keane and Jesse Lingard hopeful of involvement on an artificial pitch in Vilnius.
NOT THE FAVOURITES
The reality is we are underdogs at the moment, aren't we? I don't know how far the team can go at present.
GARETH SOUTHGATE, England coach, on the team's chances at next year's World Cup Finals.
In-form striker Harry Kane, who scored the late winner against Slovenia, is keen to play even with games against Real Madrid and Liverpool coming up after the international break.
"I feel great, every game I expect to score and want to score. I just want to keep it going. September was fantastic for me, hopefully October can be even better," he said.
Southgate was asked what the side's objectives would be in Russia next year.
"Well, you're always there to win football matches, but you also have to be thinking what is realistic as well," he said. "The reality is we are underdogs at the moment, aren't we? I don't know how far the team can go at present. We will test ourselves in the next few months."
Lithuania, who lost 0-2 to England at Wembley in March, have scored just twice in their last six group games and have a goal difference of minus 12. But, like England, they also have no new injury concerns after their 1-1 draw in Malta on Thursday.
Germany will be without influential midfielder Toni Kroos, who has a rib injury, for their final World Cup qualifying match against Azerbaijan at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion in Kaiserslautern today.
Joachim Low's men have secured their spot in Russia next year by winning all their nine qualifiers. Azerbaijan, who have won only three of their nine games and lie fifth in the group, are not expected to cause them any problems.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
LITHUANIA V ENGLAND
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