Gareth Southgate viewing tough Nations League group as perfect preparation for England’s World Cup dream

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 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

Gareth Southgate says England’s tough Nations League draw will offer his side the perfect preparation for next winter’s World Cup in Qatar.

England have been drawn against Germany, Italy and Hungary, setting up rematches of two of the games they played at Euro 2020.

Southgate’s side beat old rivals Germany 2-0 in the last-16 before a heartbreaking loss to Italy on penalties in the final.

Hungary were also recent opponents in World Cup qualifying, earning a surprise draw at Wembley having impressed in a difficult group at the Euros.

The matches are due to take place in July and September, with England set to play their first home game behind closed doors as a sanction for the chaos which marred the Italy game at Wembley.

Southgate says England have unfinished business with Nations League and believes the matches will be the perfect preparation for Qatar 2022, which begins in November next year.

“They are great fixtures to look forward to basically, that is my initial response,” the England manager said.

“The Nations League and its format is geared towards these types of games and whoever we drew out of the first two pots were going to be high level opposition, so that is what we wanted leading into a World Cup year.

“We have had a tough fixture schedule through the last 12 months but the high quality of games is what helps the team to improve and they are the matches we have learned the most from.”

The first four group matches will all be in June, giving the competition the feel of a mini-tournament.

Southgate continued: “It is a good period for us. We lose the preparation in October so really the eight fixtures we have next year is the lead into the World Cup.

“In the summer we will have the players for a couple of weeks but with the fact they still get plenty of time to recover and prepare for the new season is important for us, so we are looking forward to those matches.

“It is two fold. There is the World Cup preparation and there is always the desire to embed players who have perhaps not had as many games as others across the next year.

“But also this is an opportunity to win a trophy and we have seen the last couple of Nations League tournaments… we loved the first one in particular.

“The second one was more difficult because there were no crowds in the stadiums and that was not enjoyable for us but we wanted to be in those semi-finals and we didn’t enjoy watching Spain, Italy, Belgium and France battle those out.

“That has been the only competition we have been in other the last four years that we haven’t made at least a semi-final and as difficult a challenge as that is, we want to be in those big matches.”

England reached the semi-final of the inaugural Nations League in 2019 but failed to get out of their group in the most recent tournament.

“We were really angry with ourselves last time round,” Southgate said. “We had a chance with Belgium and Denmark and disciplinary wise on the pitch we cost ourselves - a couple of penalties conceded, a red card - and I didn’t enjoy watching Italy, Spain, Belgium and France going at it in the finals because that is where we wanted to be.

“We have managed to make three semi-finals out of the last four competitions and we want to be in those games so again in terms of the Nations League we thought that was a brilliant spectacle those semi-finals and final and now you have got these exciting groups that have been drawn today where there are so many good fixtures and we are very much looking forward to this group.”

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