Gareth Southgate has pushed the England squad ahead of their World Cup quarter-final against France, challenging his side to create history in Qatar.
The Three Lions progressed past Senegal in the first knockout round to clinch a tie against the defending champions, presenting England’s biggest test so far at the tournament.
Defeat against Didier Deschamps’ side would mark England’s earliest exit from a major tournament under Southgate, who led the side to the semi-finals of the World Cup in Russia and finished as runners-up to Italy at Euro 2020.
While those improvements are significant, England have fallen at a crucial hurdle against tough opponents in each of those tournaments – losing 2-1 to Croatia in 2018 before a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out defeat at Wembley last year.
Southgate has used that record to issue a challenge to his squad, identifying that winning fixtures away from home against top opposition is something yet to be achieved.
“We’ve made quite a bit of history over the last four or five years, not all of it good, but that’s the great challenge,” he said.
“When you go back through the tournaments, you do see the teams that have knocked England out. We haven’t been able to do that [win an away knockout against elite opposition] so that’s the next test for this team.
“We have a lot of experience of these moments and they know that they’ve had to win games in different ways; they’ve had to come from behind in big matches.
“What we talked about against Senegal was keeping the relentless pressure going, not sitting back when we were ahead, making sure that we kept the intensity of our game. We’ve got to do that now against the world champions.”
— England (@England) December 4, 2022
England’s success under Southgate is a far cry from his predecessors, where disappointing exits from tournaments were par from the course, which led Southgate to identify the difficulties faced on the international stage – and highlighted bringing in young players early was crucial.
“There have been lots of moments when to play with England is difficult. It’s a different sort of challenge to your club. It’s far more scrutiny,” he explained.
“So you have to be able to handle that. When we’re selecting players, we’re looking at their ability to handle that mentally as much as anything else.
“The young lads that have come in are showing that. But you never know until they are in these moments how that’s going to be.
“We had a lot of caps on the pitch against Senegal, even the younger ones, because we’ve blooded them early.”
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World Cup quarterfinal, England v France
When: Sunday 8am December 11 (NZ time)
Where: Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor, Qatar
Who to watch: Jude Bellingham (England), Kylian Mbappe (France)