Gareth Southgate pleased with 'hungry' England in 5-0 World Cup Qualifier win over San Marino

After watching the 5-0 victory, Southgate said: "The whole team were hungry to play. Sometimes these games have been stodgy for us in the past but this team can play slightly differently, we have some creative players who can open teams up."

preview image 5:25
Gareth Southgate was pleased with England's victorious start to their World Cup qualifying campaign, and hailed his side's mentality in their 5-0 win against San Marino

Gareth Southgate was pleased with his "hungry" looking England side in the 5-0 win over San Marino, claiming in the past players had looked "stodgy" in such fixtures.

Ollie Watkins scored on his international debut and Dominic Calvert-Lewin struck twice as England kicked off their qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with a comfortable win over FIFA's lowest-ranked side.

England posted 20 shots on the San Marino goal in the first half with Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount looking particularly sharp before they were withdrawn at the break with games against Albania and Poland in mind.

"The whole team were hungry to play," Southgate said.

England 5-0 San Marino 3:23
Highlights of England vs San Marino from FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group I

"Sometimes these games have been stodgy for us in the past but this team can play slightly differently, we have some creative players who can open teams up. A lot of those chances were created by the good pressing and winning the ball high up the pitch. But also some of the interchange of position and the vision of players. If we were to be ultra-critical, we probably should have scored more but we also have to say their goalkeeper had an absolutely fantastic game.

"I was very pleased because the behaviours and habits we showed, to be a top team we have to show those every day, in every training session, and every match and today we respected the game and went about it the right way."

Ahead of the match, Southgate had suggested he already knows his starting XI for the European Championship opener against Croatia on June 14.

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But the England boss was keen to clarify his comments in the press conference, making the point that players still have time to impress him with plenty of football to be played between now and June.

"I was asked if the game was tomorrow would I know my best team, and the answer to that would be yes," he said.

"But every game we play, every opportunity to play with clubs, people have the chance to show good form, good level of quality and the opportunity to change that thinking. It would be foolish to pin ourselves to something now when everything is so fluid and things change so quickly.

"We've got lots of really good competition for places and yes there are a couple of different ways we can play, and that flexibility will be important, but the most pleasing thing is the depth.

"When we have youngsters like Jude [Bellingham] coming on and playing with the type of confidence he did and then to see Ollie [Watkins] come on and get his goal… I think the reaction to his goal in particular told you a lot about this team and this squad. They were so pleased for him. I think they make it easier for young players and new players to come in and be themselves and bed in. I really liked the reaction of the team to his goal."

Ollie Watkins celebrates his first goal for England
Image: Ollie Watkins celebrates his first goal for England

Southgate also commented on England's World Cup Qualifier in Albania on Sunday that will go ahead after a policing scare in the country threatened to call off the fixture in Tirana.

The Albanian Football Federation (FSHF) warned the game's cancellation "would have catastrophic consequences for the image of our country" after receiving a letter from local police stating measures before, during and after could not be guaranteed.

However, Albania State Police have since assured that they will guarantee public order and safety for the game following a meeting with the FSHF on Thursday.

"I didn't think for one minute it would be in doubt," Southgate said.

"We're flooded by stories like that all the time about various issues and it's very rare those things come to fruition. I'm told there's no doubt about the game."

Southgate praise for Lingard, Sterling and Mount

Jesse Lingard in action for England against San Marino
Image: Jesse Lingard impressed Southgate against San Marino

West Ham's Jesse Lingard, on loan from Manchester United, was back in the squad, and impressed Southgate with his work both on and off the ball.

"I thought Jesse was excellent. First of all, it's really pleasing to see him playing football and enjoying it, with a smile on his face.

"We know the quality he has - we gave him his debut 50 games ago. Why did we do that? Because he's a player who is technically good, has intelligence in the positions he takes up, and works incredibly hard to pressure and win the ball back without the ball.

"My first thought is how lovely to see him back playing at the level we think he can be."

Stand-in captain Raheem Sterling also impressed Southgate, scoring the third goal in England's victory, and providing what the manager calls a "different option".

"I thought he was trying a bit too hard with his chances tonight. I was pleased for him when he got his goal. You can see his determination to do well, which is never in question with him. It's great for us to have him back.

Raheem Sterling, England
Image: Raheem Sterling was England's stand-in captain on Thursday

"His speed and his ability are so important for us, it's a different type of option. We've got different sorts of players with different attributes to break down these defences. To be able to have somebody who can take players out of the game one-vs-one is very important."

Mason Mount also made a strong case for a starting place against Croatia on June 13, with Southgate praising the Chelsea midfielder for his all-round game.

"He's a top player, not only his work with the ball, but the way he pressed when we lost it, the way he recovered and won the ball back when on the rare occasion San Marino managed to play through.

"His weight of pass was excellent, and his all-round game is just very good.

"I was struck last night when he was talking to you guys how mature he was. But we've got so many good, young players. Phil coming on, Jude coming on, they are different types of players who really express themselves on the ball. It's lovely to see players wearing an England shirt and feeling free enough to do that."

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