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Southgate hails on-song England’s ‘desire to keep pushing forward’

Southgate hails on-song England's 'desire to keep pushing forward'

Gareth Southgate believes England have “hit a sweet spot” a year out from the European Championship but says there can be no let-up as his talented, ever-improving group hunt silverware.

Monday’s 7-0 annihilation of North Macedonia means it is a case of when rather than if their place at next summer’s finals in Germany is rubber-stamped.

Bukayo Saka sparkled with a hat-trick at Old Trafford as England headed on the road for a home match for the first time since last June’s humbling at the hands of Hungary.

The 4-0 Molineux mauling in the Nations League led fans to turn on Southgate, who took that in mind when considering his future after the World Cup.

But that low, combined with the frustration of bowing out in the quarter-finals in Qatar, has helped sharpen England’s focus as they look to win next year’s Euros, having lost in the final of the previous edition on penalties.

“I think when you look back at last summer, four matches, a couple of them behind closed doors, the need to rotate the squad, need to look at new players, there were a lot of circumstances as we knew at the time around those performances and results,” Southgate said of their Nations League struggles last June.

“Post World Cup, I think we’ve hit a sweet spot where there’s a hunger to go further than we’ve been and a desire to keep pushing forward.

“But a confidence from the matches that we’ve played and the big nights we’ve been involved with, and the ability that they know they have, so that’s a good place to be.

“We have to keep pushing them now because they’ve set a standard in the last four games against different sorts of opponents, different environments, where anything can be possible.

“I think they’ve been really good to watch, they’ve been exciting to watch, there’s competition for individual places, there’s competition to get in the squad.

“But around all of that there’s a brilliant feel with them as a group and that is what creates a strong team.

“I think the crowd have connected with that, the crowd was brilliant from before kick-off tonight.”

Saka’s first career hat-trick, a Harry Kane brace and goals from Marcus Rashford and Kalvin Phillips wowed the Old Trafford crowd on Monday night.

It was England’s fourth win from four Group C matches – a pool that started with an impressive 2-1 victory against Euro 2020 final foes Italy in Naples.

That result set the tone for a side that has steadily built the kind of mentality that means they head into matches expecting, rather than hoping, to win.

 

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