Gareth Southgate: England are further ahead than before World Cup
Southgate: "I'd say we're definitely further ahead than we were heading into Russia. But we made massive strides in this period when we went into Russia"
Last Updated: 18/11/19 12:06pm
Gareth Southgate believes England are in a better place heading into Euro 2020 than they were ahead of the World Cup, but there remains plenty of work to do after ending qualification with victory in Kosovo.
England secured their place among the six top seeds for the Euro 2020 draw by triumphing 4-0 in Pristina, where Harry Winks and Mason Mount opened their international accounts alongside Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford efforts.
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England's latest emphatic Group A win took their overall tally for 2019 to 38 goals - a haul only bettered by the 39 scored in 1908 - as captain Kane became the country's first player to net in every qualification match.
Southgate's men have averaged 3.8 goals per game and are among the favourites for Euro 2020 on the back of runs to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and this year's Nations League.
"I mean, I would say that we're definitely further ahead than we were heading into Russia," manager Southgate said. "But we made massive strides in this period when we went into Russia.
"So, we've got to make sure that to get the level of performance next summer, we're going to have to improve in the way that we did over that spell as well. And I think the team have belief, for sure, you can see the confidence.
"I said last night, they don't come into these matches worrying about what might go wrong, they've got the confidence to control games with possession, and they know they're going to score goals. So, yes, what we don't know, because we haven't had those tests more recently against the top eight or 10, is exactly how we're going to cope in those moments.
"And to win the European Championship is, at the moment, no easier than the World Cup. The final four were all European, and you've got to add Spain, Germany, Portugal and all the others into that, so it's a really high-level tournament."
Southgate praises 'ruthless' England
Southgate, whose side were already assured of top spot in Group A, was pleased to see England given a "good test" in difficult playing conditions after battling their way to victory in Pristina.
"I think it was a tight game," he said. "It was a good test for us really. Difficult pitch, in particular, lots of people slipping and a few passes went astray. But we needed a tighter game. It was the sort of challenge I was pleased we got.
"We had to withstand spells of pressure, gave them a few half-chances that on another night could be more of a problem, but in the end our counter-attacking was absolutely ruthless.
"Goals per game we're the top scorers in Europe so that has been the story of this qualifying campaign," he added. "It's definitely a group we should win, definitely a group we should score goals in but we have been ruthless. Our attacking play throughout has been outstanding.
"Of course, some of the opposition has been not so strong, but we had the Nations League games in the middle of that. We have very clear patterns of play that the players understand and that suit the personnel that we've got. We've got some very good young players.
"At the end of the day you're as good as the players you have. With Harry, Raheem, Marcus, that front three with the support of the others in the squad who are only going to improve because of their age, I'm glad the three of them are ours.
"I think we saw the maturity of their performance in the end. The counter-attack goal with Raheem Sterling playing Marcus in was absolutely outstanding."
'We've come out stronger'
Raheem Sterling was recalled to the England starting line-up after being dropped for Thursday's 7-0 win over Montenegro following an incident involving Joe Gomez at St George's Park.
Southgate felt the return of Manchester City forward Sterling at the Stadiumi Fadil Vokrri drew a line under last week's incident with Gomez, who did not travel to Kosovo after suffering a knee injury in training.
He said: "I think that you have to work through any difficulties you have and the whole group have done that really well. I think we come out of this stronger than we started it, frankly."
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'Reception from Kosovo fans was special'
Unlike their last away game in Bulgaria, England received overwhelming support from respectful Kosovan fans before and during the game.
Players had their names cheered as the line-ups were announced before kick-off, with Raheem Sterling in particular getting an excellent reception, before the home fans held up cards picturing the cross of Saint George during God Save The Queen.
Southgate said: "We were told that we could get a reception like this, but actually to experience it was very special. So, I think tonight was more than just a football match for Kosovo, and we're very proud to have played a part in that.
"And I like the team, I think you have a really good chance through the playoffs to get to the European Championships.
"I'm sure, in particular the game in Prague earlier in the week, will be one you will have learned a lot from, because that was a high-pressure game, and that's what you're going into in March."
Kosovo coach: England favourites for Euro 2020
After the game, Kosovo boss Bernard Challandes said he considered England favourites for Euro 2020 following this latest goalfest.
"It's clear, for me they are the number one for this Euros," he told Sky Sports.
"This team has such a good potential offensively. They play good football, they play down the sides, they play with speed and technical quality.
"That's the difference with the other teams in Europe now. It's the incredible quality of one, two, three, four, five players. It's not just Sterling or Kane because there are other possibilities.
"For me, it's now the best team in Europe."
Kane: We were clinical
England captain Kane felt it was a professional performance in their final competitive match ahead of Euro 2020.
He said: "It was a difficult game, difficult pitch. They were up for it.
"We had already won the group so the mentality is not always easy to go again, but we got it right.
"We got 1-0 up. We went through a few spells where they had some pressure but we soaked it up and then towards the end of the game, when the spaces started to open up, we were clinical. Four-nil is a great result."
📊Harry Kane has become the 1⃣st @England player to score in every game in a qualifying campaign 👏— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) November 17, 2019
Mar 22 Czech Republic ⚽️
Mar 25 Montenegro ⚽️
Sept 7 Bulgaria ⚽️⚽️⚽️
Sept 10 Kosovo ⚽️
Oct 11 Czech Republic ⚽️
Oct 14 Bulgaria ⚽️
Nov 14 Montenegro ⚽️⚽️⚽️
Nov 17 Kosovo ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/ahcvZ9F986
Winks: It was a special moment
Winks, who impressed in a more attacking midfield role, was thrilled to cap off a brilliant performance with a first international goal.
He said: "It's a dream to score for your country. I never thought it would happen to be honest. It was a special moment for me and my family. I'm going to enjoy the celebrations.
"There's always expectation with an England side, we know that. It's about how we deal with that pressure.
"Going into the Euros is going to be exciting for us, something that the whole country as a nation is going to be excited to go into, and so are we.
"There's a lot of good confidence and good players so hopefully we can go as far as we possibly can."
Mount: I'm very pleased and proud
The Tottenham midfielder was not the only man to celebrate his first goal for England as Chelsea's Mount also found the net.
"It's quite a surreal moment, it happened so quick for me," said Mount.
"I ended up scoring and Harry getting the assist for me so it was a brilliant moment. I'm very pleased and proud. I think my family watching it will be very happy with it.
"You have a feeling that you can score. Harry flicked it to me, there was a bit of time where I didn't know whether to go on my right foot or left foot, but I just put it on my left foot and the other side of the goal was open. I just tried to get it on target.
"Obviously the other night I had one disallowed with the offside. And then I probably should have scored the own goal one. But tonight I was focused on trying to come on and make an impact."