England start on the road to Euro 2020 against Spain with a spring in their step less than two months after a World Cup campaign that rekindled the nation’s love for the team.
A run to the last four in Russia before the crushing disappointment of semi-final defeat to Croatia restored pride in England and hope that even better things are to come.
Gareth Southgate took the third youngest group in the competition to Russia and the boss has stuck to his youth policy, throwing Manchester United’s Luke Shaw and Liverpool’s Joe Gomez into the mix.
At 28, Fabian Delph is the oldest member of Southgate’s squad for Saturday’s UEFA Nations League opener at home to Spain and a friendly with Switzerland on Tuesday, with veterans Gary Cahill, Jamie Vardy and Ashley Young dropping out from the 23 that went to the World Cup.
As well as giving the World Cup squad members a taste for further success, England’s run in Russia inspired Gomez, 21, and Shaw, 23.
“The World Cup is the biggest stage for any footballer,” said Shaw. “It was wonderful to see how well we did as a team and how far we got was brilliant. But also it was quite gutting not to be there.”
Gomez was firmly in Southgate’s plans for Russia after starring in friendlies against Brazil and Germany but an ankle injury ended his season early and ruined his World Cup dream.
“I think the squad doing what they did in the summer gives the opportunity to try to build on that,” said the Liverpool defender. “To do so, we’ve got to carry on that level of performance, reaching semi-finals and finals.”
Southgate rightly earned rave reviews for the meticulous preparation that allowed England to surpass expectations by making the semi-finals of a World Cup for the first time in 28 years.
However, he now has to guard against an emotional hangover from the highs and lows of five weeks in Russia to build on that momentum.
The inaugural Nations League campaign helps Southgate’s task, with competitive games against top-tier opposition a better measure than traditional friendlies of how confident England can be of winning Euro 2020 on home soil with the semi-finals and final of that competition to be played at Wembley.
For all the progress made in Russia, England won only three of seven games against the lesser lights of Tunisia, Panama and Sweden, losing twice to Belgium and only beating Colombia on penalties with the sides tied after 120 minutes.
“We’ve got to keep the momentum,” said goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
“This Nations League thing I think is a really good showcase for England against the top teams in the world and we want to be beating those top teams.”
An early chance for revenge against Croatia will also add extra spice to the three-team Nations League group, with the winners progressing to the semi-finals in June. -AFP