Gareth Southgate hails ‘excellent' England response as Scotland swept aside
Gareth Southgate was delighted with his players’ commitment, togetherness and mentality over the last week as England continue to build towards their goal of winning Euro 2024.
Having reached the final of the last edition and impressed in December’s World Cup quarter-final exit to France, the focus is on finally getting their hands on silverware in Germany next summer.
Winning their first four Group C matches means it has long been a case of when rather than if England seal their place at the finals, but Saturday’s drab 1-1 qualification draw against Ukraine brought criticism.
Southgate’s side bounced back with a slick 3-1 friendly win over old foes Scotland at Hampden Park on Tuesday, bringing a successful camp came to a victorious end.
“We’re building all the time,” the England manager said. “We want to keep improving, we keep pushing the players.
“We’ve been able to experiment a bit this week as well. Two new centre-backs (Marc Guehi and Lewis Dunk) have come in, relatively inexperienced, and both done really well.
“But some of our senior players are so influential – (Kyle) Walker and (Kieran) Trippier were absolutely outstanding (against Scotland).
“The impact of our senior players on this group just can’t be underestimated.
“Of course, a lot of the headlines will go to some of our younger players and understandably so, but the way that the group form and the way they are as a team is key to getting the types of performance we have (last night).”
Southgate’s team are among the favourites to win next summer’s Euros and former international Joe Cole called this side the best England team he has seen his lifetime.
“Everybody else can assess that,” the manager said when that was put to him after their impressive Hampden Park triumph.
“I think we want to keep pushing the players.
“I was really pleased with the week. If you’d said to me before the game, ‘How’s the week been?’ I’d have said, ‘Excellent’.
“The players have been fully committed, encouraged each other, trained really well, responded well to a disappointing performance but a really important and good result in Ukraine.
“We wanted the sort of mentality that we showed, and they produced that. They were absolutely excellent (at Hampden).”
It was an impressive team effort with Real Madrid star Jude Bellingham at its heart in Mount Florida.
The 20-year-old played a role in Phil Foden’s opener and three minutes later fired home his second international goal.
Bellingham did not stop there as he capped a man-of-the-match display with a fine assist for Harry Kane after Harry Maguire’s own goal temporarily gave Hampden hope.
“Well, he was excellent,” Southgate said of the young midfielder. “We thought that position might cause a problem.
“I mean, we knew we needed athleticism there to press Scotland because their midfield players can dictate games if you allow them, so that was that was key.
“But we knew the way we played the system might create a bit of an overload and his powerful running forwards with Marcus (Rashford) as well, in particular when Harry was dropping low and Phil was dropping low, that gave us a real outlet.
“So, it was a nice balance to the team with Kalvin (Phillips) and Dec (Rice) doing a brilliant job of mopping up, destroying things and keeping the ball ticking over well.”
Players now return to club matters before convening next month for a Wembley friendly against Australia and qualifier under the arch against Euro 2020 winners Italy.
The Group C leaders’ advantage at the top could be cut to three points by the time they host the Azzurri, but bookmakers’ odds of 1-250 on England to qualify for Euro 2024 highlights their position of strength.
Scotland are also on the cusp of qualification having won their first five qualifiers.
Steve Clarke’s men would have even qualified on Tuesday had Norway and Georgia drawn, but instead the wait continues as they head to second-placed Spain next month looking respond to a deflating loss to the Auld Enemy.
Put to Southgate that there appears to be a big gap between England and Scotland, he said: “No, I just think, look, we played exceptionally well.
“We were able to nullify a lot of the threats that Scotland pose, so it was a really good performance from us.
“I think Scottish fans should be really proud of how their team are going and the job Steve’s doing.
“I’m sure there’ll be a huge reaction to the result, but we’ve just said that for three days and I’m sure Steve’s sensible enough to keep calm about that.
“We played well, we’ve won the game, but on another night that can look very different.”