Southgate urges England to stay hungry for success

LONDON • Fresh off finishing third in the inaugural Uefa Nations League in June, England resume their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign against two teams who are unlikely to put up a fight, especially at Wembley.

However, manager Gareth Southgate is taking nothing for granted despite the bookmakers making his side the overwhelming favourites ahead of today's home match with Bulgaria before they host Kosovo on Tuesday.

The Three Lions, who were fourth at the 2018 World Cup, have won their opening two qualifiers by a combined 10-1 score and top Group A on goal difference ahead of the Czech Republic.

Kosovo are third with five points from three games, ahead of Bulgaria and Montenegro, who have two points from four matches.

But Southgate is stressing the importance of the matches - not only towards qualification, but also to keep the competitive fire burning for his squad.

"There's qualification which we want to secure," he said.

"And also the seeding for the Finals, if we get there, depends a little bit on your qualification points and there are lots of groups where teams are unbeaten.

"But the biggest drive of us is every day, how we work as a team looking to improve our level. We came back from the World Cup, we weren't happy that was enough.

"We've come back from the Nations League not happy that it's enough and that will continue."

To ensure the competition for places remains high, he has brought in several uncapped players, including Tyrone Mings, James Maddison, Mason Mount and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who has since pulled out with an injury.

Southgate believes the fresh blood augurs well for the future.

"We have competition for places and we have got a depth of talent now because we have approached it slightly differently to look at younger players," he said.

"It means we lack some experience in some positions, but it means we keep evolving as a team. We can't stand still, there are young players coming through for the long term for England and we need to start integrating them."

In addition to the new boys, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has made two starts for Liverpool this season, is also primed to win his first cap in 18 months after recovering from the cruciate knee ligament injury which cost him a place at last year's World Cup.

Southgate admitted that the midfielder was a big miss in Russia, adding: "He had such a great form and that cruel injury robbed him of that. I am delighted he is back on the right path.

"We are quite clear that he would have been in our starting team in the World Cup if he was fit."

DPA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2019, with the headline 'Southgate urges England to stay hungry for success'. Print Edition | Subscribe