London (AFP) – Gareth Southgate insists England can overcome their growing pains as his young side aim to get their Euro 2020 campaign back on track by winning Group D against the Czech Republic on Tuesday.
England are level on four points with the Czechs and will be guaranteed a first-place finish if they win their last group match.
A victory at Wembley feels essential for England to lift the gloom that descended after they were booed off following Friday’s lacklustre 0-0 draw with old rivals Scotland.
With an average age of 25 years and 31 days, England’s starting line-up against Scotland was the youngest they had ever fielded in a major tournament.
Chelsea duo Mason Mount and Reece James and Manchester City’s Phil Foden have already won trophies with their clubs, while Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips have earned rave reviews on the Premier League stage.
But there is nothing quite like the intensity of an international competition and just a handful of England’s current crop have tasted it before.
That lack of experience showed up in England’s failure to deal with Scotland’s astute game-plan and well-drilled defence.
Southgate’s side were only marginally better in a 1-0 win against Croatia in their first game and there are mounting concerns that a potential last-16 meeting with France, Germany or Portugal could prove too much for England to handle.
Southgate acknowledged it is a learning process for England as they come to terms with the unique pressures of tournament action.
“This is a relatively inexperienced group, I think the third least caps in the tournament,” Southgate said.
“Against Scotland it was a young team so that’s a different experience for a lot of them than they’ve every faced before.
“They’ve just about survived it. We want to be better and that’s what we’re going to work through in the next few days before we play the Czech Republic.”
– ‘Explosive options’ –
Southgate has hinted at changes for the Czech game as he looks to revitalise a team yet to hit their stride.
His biggest selection issue concerned captain Harry Kane, who has yet to score or even manage a shot on target in the tournament.
The subdued Tottenham striker was substituted in both games, sparking calls from some critics to leave him out.
But dropping the Premier League’s top scorer this season would have been a huge gamble for Southgate, who on Sunday confirmed Kane will start.
“You can assume that, yes, absolutely,” Southgate said. “He is fundamental not only to the goals he scores but the build-up play and everything else he brings.
“He is our most important player, there is no doubt about that.”
Foden and Mount have struggled to link up with Kane, while Raheem Sterling’s winner against Croatia was one of his few influential moments so far.
Aston Villa playmaker Jack Grealish, Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho and Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford could come in if Southgate tries to improve the supply lines to Kane.
Asked about Sancho being involved, Southgate said: “We’ve got some explosive options and a lot of them are young players and experiencing a big tournament for the first time.
“So as a coaching staff we are realistic about our expectations of them as individuals.
“Jadon is in that mix. He’s trained well the last few days and of course we have got those options and those decisions to make.”
Southgate is well aware that England’s fans were restless during the Scotland stalemate, but he called on them to be patient while his youngsters get back on track.
“The important thing is that everyone gets behind the team and they’re going to need to feel that support and to feel that warmth,” he said.
“We know there are some very good players in there, we know they can perform better than they did and we’ve got to help them to find that level.”
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