Gareth Southgate believes his England players got a glimpse of what their potential might be as they came from behind to beat Belgium in the Nations League on Sunday.
The Three Lions recovered from a slow start at Wembley to secure a 2-1 victory and move top of Group A2.
Romelu Lukaku gave the visitors the lead from the penalty spot after being felled by Eric Dier, after Yannick Carrasco had already had an effort ruled out for offside, but England went in level at the break as Marcus Rashford converted a spot-kick of his own.
Mason Mount then hit a deflected winner as England beat a team ranked number one in the world for the first time since 2011.
— England (@England) October 11, 2020
With captain Harry Kane only fit enough for the bench and Raheem Sterling out injured, Southgate fielded a number of his younger stars and feels the experience of beating a side like Belgium will stand them in good stead.
“I think tonight you saw the top-level game where we were able to use the ball well, create chances,” he said.
“I think the penalty came at a critical moment, we had just put a couple of good moves together and we could go in at half-time where we needed to regroup.
“Going in at 1-1 gave a different feel to going in a goal behind and everything feels a bit calmer.
— Mason Mount (@masonmount_10) October 11, 2020
“You don’t get many chances in this level of game, but we did create chances. But defensively you have got to be spot on. You can’t be loose in anyway shape or form.
“The players really took that on board. We had a 20-minute spell where we were getting caught with overloads, with one-twos down the side. Lots of quick decisions had to be made.
“But they rode through that.
“And, when you think that the front players, plus Declan (Rice), plus Trent (Alexander-Arnold) are so young, it is a brilliant experience for them to play against a top team and to go and win it should give them a sense of what might be possible over the next few years.”
Kane came on for the final third of the game and missed a fine chance to wrap up the win, but Southgate is hoping the minutes help him in his fight to be fit for Wednesday’s Nations League game with Denmark.
Chelsea full-back Ben Chilwell could also be involved, having missed Sunday’s win due to illness.
“Ben reported to the hotel today,” Southgate confirmed.
“He did a training session on his own, we have just got to assess where he is at as he has not been able to train through the week, but he is with the group now.”
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez would not be drawn on the penalty decision which saw England draw level but felt the game could have had another outcome if the video assistant referee had been used.
“I think it would have been a very different game if the VAR was available,” he said.
“The modern game has meant a different way in refereeing – even with the offside goal disallowed, it is hard to tell when Carrasco kicks the ball if someone is obscuring Pickford’s vision.
“I just think the VAR has taken referees to a different level and when it isn’t there it is more difficult for referees.”
Martinez also confirmed he withdrew captain Kevin De Bruyne as a precautionary measure.
“I wouldn’t say it was an injury,” he said of the Manchester City man.
“It is too early to say, there was a feeling that he wasn’t right – it was more precaution that we had to avoid (something), he wasn’t 100 per cent.”