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Gareth Southgate says England “can’t waste a moment” if they are to improve enough to bring home the World Cup next year.
The wounds from July’s European Championship final loss to Italy remain raw, but there is no time to wallow in self-pity given it is just 14 months until the winter tournament gets under way in Qatar.
Southgate highlighted the fact there are only five more international camps until next year’s World Cup, meaning there is precious little time to progress and impress compared to usual tournament cycles.
England took a big stride towards qualification for Qatar by winning 4-0 amid disgraceful scenes in Hungary, with Group I continuing at home to Andorra on Sunday before Wednesday’s trip to Poland.
“Really from day one of this get-together the message has been that what they did in the summer was a step forward and was something they should be very proud of,” Southgate said of the September triple-header. “This is where we are at.
“But our aim is consistent progress and consistent performance and that sort of sustainable success. I think we have shown that over three or four years.
“We have learnt from difficult nights we’ve had – whether that was away in the Czech Republic, for example, or Holland in the Nations League.
“But if we want to be serious contenders for the World Cup we can’t waste a moment. We can’t miss an opportunity to improve.
“We must push ourselves. We have to have a desire to get better. Myself as a coach, the players, the staff in the roles they do.
“Because the teams that didn’t do so well in the summer will be licking their wounds and looking at everything. There’s a risk that they look harder for those opportunities to improve.
“If we have any complacency, that would be an error because, yes, we’ve got talent and we have shown positive performances and earned good results. But that can disappear very quickly.
“The level of competition in Europe alone is extremely high and you can see 10 teams across the last three competitions have reached the semi-finals. Add Brazil, Argentina and the top South American countries into that and it highlights the difficulties of staying in that upper echelon.”
While the main focus is sealing silverware in Qatar, Southgate is not getting ahead of him as he looks to get the matches against Andorra and Poland “nailed”.
Wednesday’s match in Warsaw could be a potential banana skin, but preparations are already afoot to make sure England maximise their potential.
There are just three international meet-ups in 2022 before the World Cup gets under way in the November and the players will only be released for the tournament a week before it starts.
“There will be a lot of thought that goes into it,” Southgate said. “We’re obviously aware of that schedule already and conscious of it.
“We would have a twin sort of preparation thing, really.
“Our primary focus obviously is on these autumn matches and making sure that we secure the qualification.
“But in the background we’re always making sure that plans are in place in the positive outlook that we can get to the finals and need to prepare.
“Because I think in the past we were worried about preparing because it might bring bad luck, or whatever.
“Whereas we’ve got to be bold and prepare as if we’re going to get there, but then make sure that we get the performances right to ensure that we do.”
In the short term Southgate is planning widespread changes against Andorra, although the England boss is not expecting any drop-off from his players.
“There’s individual ambition and the collective need to produce consistent performances,” he said ahead of the Three Lions’ first Wembley match since the Euro 2020 final.
“We have a culture within this group that every time we go out on the pitch there’s an expectation in terms of the level of performance, the commitment, the work-rate of the team.
“We talked about that on the back of the summer. That’s even more important ahead of the game tomorrow.
“We’ve got probably the biggest crowd in Europe coming to watch us and they want to be entertained and they want to see the players committed to the shirt.
“But, to be honest, they are. They show that in every training session.”