England head coach Gareth Southgate speaking ahead of their Euro 2024 qualifier against Ukraine (PA Wire)
England’s players now expect the target to be tournament victory, Gareth Southgate revealed, as the team stand on the brink of Euro 2024 qualification. The manager said that lifting the trophy was now the aim in a team meeting at the start of this international break, and a lot of it was to do with how the squad has evolved over the past six years. England play Ukraine in Wroclaw on Saturday and victory could see them qualify this week depending on other results. With qualification already virtually guaranteed, though, it is the trophy itself they are aiming for.
“I think now they need that challenge,” Southgate said. “The players don’t want us to come in and be talking differently, and we’ve got evidence over a long period of time that we should have that belief. Of course, you’ve got to go and deliver it and a lot can happen in terms of availability of players and everything, but for us that has to be the longer-term aim.”
Southgate pointed to how even the level in training is always top level, and they never have to be told to lift it.
“There is definitely belief. They definitely have huge desire. They have had a lot of success at club level and for a lot of them the missing piece is something with England which they know would be bigger than anything else they have achieved. The whole group are determined on that. They are really responsive and I can’t speak how highly we feel to be able to work with them every day. We never have to walk on the training pitch and criticise the levels or question the attitude towards the training. And so the key is to transfer that on to the pitch. We have to do that tomorrow night.
“We are pleased the mentality of the players has been exceptional and they are grasping the challenge and grasping our push that we have got to get better and better. They have started well in this group and the positive thing is that it is 12 points but we cannot just rest on where we are and we have to keep improving as a team. So, tomorrow is another chance to take another step forward and for other players to come into the side because we are missing three or four from the last couple of games.”
While the inclination is to cast Euro 2024 as a last chance for this squad, Southgate doesn’t see it like that, due to how it is evolving.
“I think the nice thing is that, some players, it will be probably their last chance to win something, some will be at their peak, and some have still got space to grow. I don’t see the team falling off a cliff after the next tournament. There’s enough youngsters that still have their best years ahead of them, in fact. So it’s a good balance.”