London (AFP) – England’s football team have progressed to being regarded as a threat at major football championships which was not the case prior to the 2018 World Cup their manager Gareth Southgate told the BBC.
The 49-year-old Englishman said the trajectory the team has been on makes them a hot contender to be crowned European champions next year.
Southgate has been a roaring success since he took over after Sam Allardyce resigned after just one match in charge in 2016.
The former central defender — who was capped 57 times by England — has trusted in young talent and the tactic has payed off.
England made a surprise run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, reaching the last four of the inaugural Nations League and easily topping their Euro 2020 qualifying group.
“I think we’ve gained some respect, and I think people would view us as a threat which certainly wasn’t the case ahead of Russia,” said Southgate ahead of Saturday’s Euro 2020 draw with his side at home for three group matches.
“We also know we have got to improve to another level.
“It’s hard to assess exactly where we are after this qualifying campaign.
“Nobody else got to the World Cup semi-finals and the latter stages of the Nations League.
“So we are in that mix of teams, but there are lot of good teams and the difference on one day between any of the top 10 teams is so marginal in football.”
– ‘Very difficult topic’ –
Southgate, who became a candidate for the England job after impressing as their Under-21 coach, said it is hard to compare his squad with the one he was part of and which reached the Euro 96 semi-finals.
The Euro ’96 side lost on penalties to old foes and eventual champions Germany at Wembley — Southgate’s missed penalty proving decisive.
However, he showed an admirable ability of laughing at himself when he along with Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle — who missed penalties against the then West Germany in the 1990 World Cup semi-finals — took part in a pizza advertisement.
“In terms of the teams, they are very different,” he said.
“We had seven club captains and quite a few players in their late twenties and some in their early thirties, so this team is in a different moment in their journey, both individually and collectively.”
Southgate, whose success at the World Cup also did wonders for sales of waistcoats as he sported a three piece suit, said he does not view the finals next year as a way of slaying ghosts of the past.
“The tournament next summer is not about me and redemption,” he said.
“On a personal level, the World Cup in Russia was, I guess, my own catharsis of getting out of a penalty shoot-out.
“That was something that was nice to do, but the team is about the player and the team is about our fans and it’s more important that we make them proud.”
Southgate and his players were widely praised for their behaviour during October’s Euro qualifier with Bulgaria in Sofia which was stopped twice due to racist chanting by home fans.
“We were the first national team to go as far through that protocol (UEFA’s three step protocol) as we did, and it was a very difficult topic for all of us,” said Southgate.
“But I hope we have made (a difference) in people’s minds.
“If we have an opportunity because of our position as a national team, if we have an opportunity to make a difference to some social issues, then we should seize that chance.”
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