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What next for England? Gareth Southgate must focus on preparing for next global challenge

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For Gareth Southgate, living in the moment has not always come easily. The England manager is such a focused operator, he rarely allows himself to simply savour results, instead embracing football's ceaseless 'on to the next one' mentality.

Even in the minutes after England's semi-final win over Denmark, as a euphoric nation celebrated history, Southgate was still mentally digesting the match, thinking of ways to improve for Italy. "I don't think it's really sunk in yet," he said at the time. "I'm still mulling through the game in my head."

More than ever, Southgate will today be looking ahead, steeling himself and his squad for the next challenge, after England's crushing defeat.

From avenging past defeats to vanquishing decades-old hoodoos, Southgate's England have risen to new challenges and broken new ground over the course of the tournament, redefining the image and expectations of the national team.

As the manager turns his attentions to the qualifiers for Qatar 2022, which resume with a triple-header against Hungary, Andorra and Poland in September, he will know that one significant psychological hurdle still remains: replicating England's form away from home.

England's two greatest tournament runs have now come on home soil, 55 years apart, and they must not wait for another one to be competitive again, even as Britain and Ireland push ahead with a joint-bid for the 2030 World Cup.


On paper, England are well-placed to build on this summer's success at the tournament in Qatar, which begins in less than 500 days, on November 21 next year.

The quality and youth of this squad points to a possible golden age ahead and it should not be beyond any of Southgate's current players to still be in contention next winter.

With Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Declan Rice, Mason Mount and Bukayo Saka still maturing and the likes of Mason Greenwood, Emile Smith Rowe, Oliver Skipp and Harvey Elliott among those who may come into contention by then, England's talent pool should only be deeper.

Even before considering the alien conditions in Qatar, the tournament will present England with the huge challenge of being a prized scalp and the pressure of backing up their run to a first European Championship Final with another strong showing.

A further test of mental fortitude lies ahead. And, more than any other major tournament in history, adapting to the unique circumstances feels, potentially, the key to success in Qatar.

Even with the tournament moved to the winter, temperatures are still set to be as high as 30C, while a mid-season World Cup presents its own challenges. Will it be as easy for the players to switch off from domestic commitments and rivalries?

Never one to count his chickens, Southgate will want to get qualification out of the way before discussing Qatar, but England are already well-placed to book their spot after winning their first three qualifiers in March.

In spite of last night's result, which continued a trend of host nations losing the Euros final, it is important to acknowledge that no country benefited from home comforts more than England this summer. After the group stage, they came to feel like the sole hosts of the continent-wide tournament.

Southgate has pointed out that there is always a host of major tournaments, but England have enjoyed even more of an advantage than usual.

In normal circumstances, all participating squads are settled in one country from the start of the tournament, but for these Euros a number of the teams faced arduous travel around the continent, including trips to Baku.

Italy, for example, played their three group games in Rome and three of their four knockout matches at Wembley, but they still had to content with travelling back and forth between their base in Florence, including between the semi-final and final.

Following their last-16 win over Austria at Wembley, they were held up by Covid checks at Luton Airport and did not arrive back until 6am.

England have faced no such disruption, with the majority of their travelling between their luxurious St George's Park base in Staffordshire, the Grove Hotel in Watford and Wembley.


Their only away game was their easiest of the knockouts — and, arguably, the tournament — against Ukraine in Rome, and there was a powerful argument, articulated by Southgate himself, that the trip was actually a positive, following the euphoria of the last-16 win over Germany.

Ultimately, England maximised the conditions handed to them superbly and made some of their own luck by winning their group to ensure another game at Wembley, when finishing second or third would have led to consecutive away matches.

Looking ahead, they must find a way to make the most of the conditions in Qatar and, once this period of reflection is over, Southgate will already be plotting how.

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