Gareth Southgate believes England displayed the kind of hunger and attitude required to become a top team during Thursday’s comprehensive World Cup qualification win against San Marino.
The rearranged European Championships may be just months away but the road to next year’s World Cup in Qatar is already under way.
James Ward-Prowse, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Raheem Sterling scored in a one-sided first half against San Marino, with inspired San Marino goalkeeper Elia Benedettini and wayward finishing keeping the score down.
Calvert-Lewin grabbed his second after half-time and replacement Ollie Watkins wrapped up a 5-0 victory with a debut goal on a night when his players’ attitude against the side bottom of FIFA’s world rankings pleased Southgate.
“Of course it’s a game that we’re expected to win and win comfortably,” the Three Lions boss said.
“But I was particularly pleased with the mentality for the full 90 minutes.
“I think that we pressed the ball when we lost it was the biggest indication of that. The whole team were hungry to play.
“Sometimes these games have been stodgy for us in the past, but I think 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 the 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 that we showed – to be a top team we have to show those every day, in every training session and in every match.
“Today we respected the game and we went about the job in the right way.”
It was a straightforward first step towards the World Cup, which England will attempt to build on in Albania on Sunday before Poland visit Wembley next Wednesday.
Southgate gave short shrift to suggestions that the match in Tirana may not go ahead – “I’m told that there is no doubt about the game,” he said – and may be tempted to stick with a four-man defence this weekend.
“We’d be foolish to pin ourselves to something now when everything is so fluid and things change so quickly,” said Southgate, who praised “excellent” Jesse Lingard after his first appearance since June 2019.
“We’ve got lots of really good competition for places and, yes, we think there are a couple of different ways that we can play and I think that flexibility will be important.
“But the most pleasing thing is the depth. When we’ve got youngsters like Jude (Bellingham) coming on playing with the type of confidence he did.
“Then to see Ollie 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 to bed in.
“I really like the reaction of the team to his goal.”
San Marino goalkeeper Benedettini prevented the night being any worse for the microstate, yet did not escape criticism from manager Franco Varrella.
“If we consider only the final score, England for sure is better than San Marino more than a five-goal difference,” he said.
“I’m a little bit disappointed because I think that we didn’t do well what we’re able to do and what we should have done on the pitch tonight.
“For example, on the second goal that we suffered our goalkeeper could have done better in that situation.
“I’m a little bit disappointed because in certain situations we didn’t try to complicate the life of England tonight.”