Gareth Southgate's England return for Nations League
Watch England v Spain in the UEFA Nations League live on Sky Sports on Saturday night
By Kaveh Solhekol
Last Updated: 08/09/18 8:32pm
Ahead of England's Nations League opener against Spain, live on Sky Sports on Saturday, Sky Sports News reporter Kaveh Solhekol reveals how the team have been preparing at St George's Park, and the lessons they have learnt from the World Cup in Russia…
It was just like the first day of school, except these kids were happy to be back.
The England squad met up this week for the first time since this summer's World Cup - and there was plenty to talk about.
The last time most of these players had been together was almost two months ago when they flew back from Russia, where they had exceeded expectations by reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup.
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England were 22 minutes away from the World Cup final when Ivan Perisic equalised for Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow; this coming two years after Roy Hodgson's side were eliminated at the last-16 stage of Euro 2016 by Iceland.
Two months after that extra-time defeat by Croatia, Gareth Southgate named 18 of the players who had been in Russia in his squad to play Spain on Saturday and Switzerland on Tuesday. Raheem Sterling's withdrawal with a back injury meant 17 reported for duty on Monday.
Memories of Russia were still fresh in the players' minds, with Jordan Pickford's stunning save from Carlos Bacca, Eric Dier's decisive spot-kick against Colombia, a 6-1 drubbing of Panama and Harry Kane's Golden Boot award among the main highlights.
There were plenty of good memories from off the pitch to talk about too.
The players loved their hotel and training base near Saint Petersburg. There had been blow-up unicorns in the swimming pool, 'Love Island' on the TV in Ashley Young's room, and the never-ending games of Fortnite.
The obsession with Fortnite continues, but the players know they are at St George's Park for the serious business of facing Spain at Wembley in UEFA's new Nations League.
In a meeting with his players, Southgate explained how the Nations League will work - although players like Harry Maguire and James Tarkowski were still trying to get their heads around the new format after the meeting.
As well as the squad meeting, Southgate has been speaking individually to the new faces he has called up.
It helps that Luke Shaw, Joe Gomez, Tarkowski and Alex McCarthy had been in England squads before and Southgate knows Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli from his time as England U21 manager.
On the training ground, England's defenders have been lining up in the same formation Southgate used in Russia: three centre-backs and two wing-backs.
Kyle Walker, John Stones and Maguire are now established as England's first-choice back three, and Danny Rose and Trippier are the most experienced wing-backs.
Meanwhile, nine of the players who started the game against Croatia are in this squad. Pickford, Trippier, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli and Harry Kane should all feature against Spain.
There are no bowling alleys or dart boards in the media centre at St George's Park as Henderson, Trippier and Maguire were on media duty on Tuesday, but the spirit of Repino lives on.
The environment Southgate has created means players are more comfortable dealing with the press and, like their manager, they are proud of how well they played in Russia and of finishing fourth, but no one is getting carried away.
There was progress in Russia but England did not win anything. Detractors will say they had an easy draw. They reached the last four without beating any of world football's superpowers.
They have a chance to put that right against Spain on Saturday.