Gareth Southgate said that England regained their belief during their 3-3 draw with Germany and are better equipped to handle the pressure of a World Cup, after putting their woes behind them by closing their disappointing Nations League campaign with an improved attacking display.
England’s manager was heartened to see his team mount a stirring fightback from 2-0 down at Wembley, only for Nick Pope to gift Kai Havertz a late equaliser, and he praised his players for sticking together after a horrible run of form.
Southgate was entitled to feel optimistic about his side’s performance in their final game before Qatar, even though Germany’s first two goals stemmed from defensive errors by Harry Maguire. England, whose six-match winless run is their worst since 1993, responded superbly after falling behind. Luke Shaw dragged them back into it by ended the side’s run of 565 minutes without a goal from open play, Mason Mount scored a fine equaliser and the stadium was bouncing after Harry Kane put England ahead from the spot.
“The players have been fantastic in the last few days,” Southgate said. “They have taken some individual responsibility, collectively talked in the group and the whole experience has been one we needed to grow the team.
“We are going to have pressure in a World Cup. You can try and avoid it but it is coming so better we feel it and learn how to deal with it.
“The players reacted in the right way when Germany scored. We showed character but also a lot of quality and I think the crowd also came with us and stayed with us. Even at 0-2, they didn’t get on their back and that was so important for us.
“We scored and the roof almost lifted off and we all remember what it feels like for a goal to go in. Then we had an absolute punch on the nose at the end. I am sure everyone here was not enamoured by rewriting three match reports but I was not chuffed myself.”
Southgate, who was delighted with Jude Bellingham’s performance in midfield, saw positive signs in attack. He has been criticised for being too cautious, but he changed the game by making positive substitutions when England were trailing, Mount and Bukayo Saka giving the team fresh impetus after coming off the bench.
“Eight hours ago not everything was wrong and now not everything is right clearly but the areas we weren’t delivering in the top end of the pitch look much brighter,” Southgate said.
“The fact we scored three and looked dangerous is really important for the players. They have had to work that through and some of the senior players have been outstanding.
“One of the things they asked was could they have a meeting on their own to talk things through and for me that was such a positive sign. There are moments at some clubs where that is not such a positive sign. But they talked that through with me. The best teams have a core of players that drive things.
“We need to stay calm. It is the message that we have to stick to what we are doing. We believe in what we are doing and I think the players took that on board and recognised that we are only a few months from the World Cup. We can talk about team spirit when things are going well but the true test is in adversity.”
Southgate, who has concerns over John Stones after the defender limped off with a thigh strain in the first half, defended Maguire after the centre-back produced another shaky display. He gave away the penalty that allowed Ilkay Gundogan to put Germany ahead and was at fault when Havertz made it 2-0. Pope, who deputised for the injured Jordan Pickford, was also jittery in goal and gifted Havertz his second goal.