Gareth Southgate believes England have shown to themselves and the rest of Europe that they can threaten the best at Euro 2020 – which is lucky as the top seeds could get a nasty draw for next summer’s finals.
Thursday’s 7-0 drubbing of Montenegro sealed top spot in Group A and automatic qualification for next summer’s finals, when the Three Lions’ pool matches will be played at Wembley.
England were not as convincing three days later at improving Kosovo yet emerged 4-0 victors in Pristina, thanks to efforts from Harry Winks, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Mason Mount.
That win in the Balkans means they are guaranteed to be among the top six seeds in the Euro 2020 draw later this month, which in theory should provide a kinder draw.
But the likes of World Cup winners France, Russia 2018 runners-up Croatia and reigning European champions Portugal are among those that could be drawn against Southgate’s side in Romania.
“Well, the reality is we don’t know how important (it will be),” the England manager said of their place as top seeds. “But, for sure, if we’d finished second and got a stinker of a draw, then we would be getting pelters!
“So, better to win the group and control as much of our destiny as we can, and we wanted to keep winning football matches. So, yeah, let’s see.
“I think the good thing is that whoever comes to play us knows they are in for a tough game, so we’ve got to have some confidence about what we’re doing as well. That said, we’ve got a lot to keep improving on, and we know that.
“So, none of us are complacent in any way, we keep pushing the players for the fine details of the game all the time, and they want that, they are hungry for that, which is a really good sign for us.”
Last year’s World Cup semi-finalists have every right to be confident, even if Southgate knows there are some defensive and midfield gremlins to iron out.
England’s dynamic, potent attack provides the most excitement, with the Three Lions boss previously admitting Raheem Sterling, Rashford and Kane are among the best trios in the world.
“Raheem, Harry and Marcus are so exciting to work with,” Southgate said. “Then, with the younger ones that are supporting that.
“So, it’s clearly an area of the team that they thrive from each other, they create for each other, they are all scoring goals – which wasn’t the case 18 months ago, particularly for Marcus and Raheem, in the numbers that they’ve been getting.
“But they work so hard for the team, you know. That is, for me, the biggest thing.
“Nobody in our squad can ever shirk the hard work because when your forward three create the way they do, score the way they do, but press and work for the team the way they do, it’s brilliant for the culture of how we want, and how we need, to play.”
The cutting edge shown was certainly among the positives in Pristina on a largely underwhelming evening, albeit one that completed a solid international week that threatened to be thrown off kilter by Sterling’s skirmish with team-mate Joe Gomez.
Tottenham midfielder Winks’ man-of-the-match display in Kosovo on the back of a promising performance against Kosovo was a big plus, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was another big winner from this meet-up.
Left out of last month’s England squad as the Liverpool midfielder continued to rebuild fitness following a nasty knee injury, the 26-year-old has impressed across two starts in November.
“I think tonight was physically challenging for him,” Southgate said.
“We know that he’s tended to come off 75-80 (minutes) into his matches for Liverpool, so we didn’t want to overload him, so the 55 on Thursday hopefully was a good bridge into today and I think that was a bit more of a challenge for him, but I think it will help him.
“And in terms of the attributes for the position, perfect because you need guys that can defend, and it’s obvious the attacking talent that he has and the forward runs that he made at Wembley the other night and a couple of times today.
“But against the top teams and against the opposition tonight, we needed people who could do both sides of the game and he really fits that profile brilliantly.”