Eng­land aims to build off run

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - SPORTS - KURT LAR­SON

MOSCOW — Gareth South­gate’s penul­ti­mate­meet­ing­with­the­p­ress sounded more like a World Cup de­brief than a pre-match news con­fer­ence ahead of Satur­day ’s third­place game in Saint Peters­burg.

The Three Li­ons’ gaffer was asked if Eng­land’s run at this tour­na­ment could be “as good as it gets” af­ter draw­ing a fairly straight­for­ward path to this week’s semi­fi­nals.

“The re­al­ity is that none of us know if that’s as good as it gets,” South­gate an­swered. “(Our aim is to) build with a sys­tem now through the devel­op­ment teams where we’ve had a lot of suc­cess at ju­nior level.”

Eng­land cur­rently holds the un­der-17 and un­der-20 World Cup crowns.

How­ever, win­ning at the ju­nior level rarely fore­tells suc­cess.

For in­stance, Nige­ria has claimed the most un­der-17 ti­tles (five) but has never advanced be­yond the Round of 16 at a se­nior World Cup.

“We’ve said now that at every age group we want to be con­stantly chal­leng­ing for fi­nals be­cause if you’re in those mo­ments of tour­na­ments, your chance of suc­cess are high,” South­gate added.

“I sus­pect when the next rank­ings come out we’ll be back in the top 10. That’s prob­a­bly where we are. We’re a bit out­side the top four or five, but I think we’re com­pet­i­tive against all of those teams.”

In re­sponse to whether he’s scared Eng­land peaked at this World Cup, South­gate joked he’s not even scared of “the big bad wolf.”

“We’re here to try and im­prove every time we play and every time we go into a tour­na­ment,” South­gate said a day be­fore the Three Li­ons meet Bel­gium.

“There were low ex­pec­ta­tions this time that re­lieved the pres­sure, but nev­er­the­less there was still pres­sure to get out of the group and pres­sure to win their first knock­out game and pres­sure to win their first penalty shootout.

“They coped bril­liantly with all of that.”

As a re­sult, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Eng­land’s play­ers and sup­port­ers has soft­ened.

“If we want to play for Eng­land we have to deal with ex­pec­ta­tion,” South­gate added. “It’s the same as if you’re at a big club. We’ve raised ex­pec­ta­tion. I don’t see a prob­lem with that be­cause we’ve also raised be­lief in the play­ers.

“They can now as­so­ciate play­ing with Eng­land with en­joy­ment and fun and not be­ing un­der siege. There’s an en­ergy and con­nec­tion that’s back.”

IN HIND­SIGHT

South­gate was crit­i­cized fol­low­ing a 2-1 ex­tra time loss to Croa­tia for fail­ing to im­pact the game with his sub­sti­tu­tions.

Eng­land’s changes were too like­for-like and did lit­tle to stymie a Croa­t­ian side that dom­i­nated the sec­ond half of Wed­nes­day night’s game.

“You’ll al­ways an­a­lyze every decision you make,” South­gate said. “And then you have to coun­ter­act that with how many good ones and how many you might do dif­fer­ently.

“Some­times the ones you do dif­fer­ently are a lot eas­ier with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight.”

South­gate lamented hav­ing lim­ited time to im­ple­ment a sys­tem be­fore the tour­na­ment.

“In terms of what we need to do, we just need to keep con­tin­u­ally im­prov­ing,” South­gate said. “We had six matches play­ing with this sys­tem be­fore we came into the tour­na­ment.

“We felt the best way to be suc­cess­ful in this tour­na­ment was to play that sys­tem. We knew set plays might give us a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage, which they did.”

It wasn’t the first time South­gate has ar­gued Eng­land aren’t a top side in world foot­ball.

“We know where we are,” he said. “We’ll fin­ish as one of the top four teams in the world but we’re not ranked one of the top four.

“There’s plenty of room for im­prove­ment, which the play­ers are up for.”

SUMMER OF LOVE

South­gate be­lieves Eng­land in­spired a na­tion in the same way Ger­many did dur­ing its run to a third-place fin­ish in 2006.

“The down­side of is it took them an­other eight years to win,” he said. “I’m not look­ing for eight more years, by the way.”

Die Mannschaft laid the ground­work in 2006 be­fore win­ning in Brazil.

“This (Eng­land) group is def­i­nitely stronger in two year’s time be­cause of their age and be­cause of their big match ex­pe­ri­ence. We’ve been through bril­liant ex­pe­ri­ences this time.

“There’s a cul­ture that ex­ists now every time we come to­gether that we ex­pect any new player who comes in to follow.”

South­gate added the per­cep­tion sur­round­ing Eng­land’s na­tional team has changed.

BEL­GIAN AP­PROACH

Bel­gian coach Roberto Martinez in­sists the Red Dev­ils will at­tack Satur­day’s third-place game in hopes of ex­it­ing Rus­sia with a warm feel­ing.

“We want to win,” he said. “When you fin­ish a tour­na­ment you carry the feel­ing of the last game.”

The Bel­gians were fly­ing high fol­low­ing a quar­ter­fi­nal win over Brazil, but even­tu­ally fell flat in a list­less semi­fi­nal loss to France.

“We’ve been here a month. We ar­rived on the 13th of June. It’s been an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence,” Martinez added.

“Ev­ery­one who has been around the Bel­gium team has per­formed in an in­cred­i­ble man­ner.

“I think every Bel­gian fan de­serves that win­ning feel­ing at the end of this tour­na­ment.”

Bel­gium has never fin­ished bet­ter than fourth at the World Cup.

DMITRI LOVETSKY/The associaTed PRess

Eng­land head coach Gareth South­gate at­tends a news con­fer­ence in St. Peters­burg, Rus­sia on Fri­day, on the eve of the third place match be­tween Eng­land and Bel­gium at the 2018 World Cup.

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