Gareth Southgate insists England can cope with the pressure of their status as one of the favourites to win Euro 2024.
Southgate’s side booked their place at next year’s tournament in Germany with an impressive 3-1 win against Italy at Wembley on Tuesday.
England recovered from Gianluca Scamacca’s early opener to see off the Italians thanks to a pair of Harry Kane goals either side of Marcus Rashford’s strike.
With two games still to play, unbeaten England are guaranteed to finish top of Group C after a dominant qualifying campaign that underlined their status as one of Europe’s elite teams.
Having lost the European Championship final on penalties to Italy two years ago — while also reaching the World Cup semi-finals and quarter-finals in the Southgate era — England are expected to mount a serious challenge for the trophy in Germany.
Southgate has no qualms about embracing England’s position as one of the leading contenders and he believes his players can handle the burden.
“I think we have to accept that. Pressure comes when expectation is different from reality and reality is we are going to be one of the teams capable of winning,” he said.
“There are others. You’ve only got to look through the top 10 European nations and on any given night one can beat another. But we’re comfortable with that.”
England made amends for losing the Euro final to Italy by beating them twice in the group stage, leaving the holders in danger of failing to qualify.
Southgate said winning a group that also featured Ukraine showed the development of his squad.
“There is more to come from this team. This was the toughest qualifying group, with the seedings. People have criticised us for not beating the top teams enough. But we have performed really well,” he said.
“The biggest thing for us is the mentality, but we have to keep winning big matches like tonight.”
‘He’s been a catalyst’
If England are to bring home their first men’s international silverware since the 1966 World Cup, they will need Kane and Jude Bellingham at their best.
Kane now has 61 goals for England and the Bayern Munich striker’s brace saw him overtake Bobby Charlton to become his country’s all-time top scorer at Wembley with 24 goals.
It was the 11th time that Kane has scored a double for England, with only Nat Lofthouse netting two or more goals in a game on more occasions for the country.
“Because we have had him for a while it’s easy to underestimate but he’s a top-level player,” Southgate said.
“He’s also in a new experience at a different club where he’s looking to win trophies, with a different sort of focus and pressure as the big signing there, so all of that is good.”
While Kane supplied the goals against Italy, it was the sublime Bellingham who laid the foundation for England’s success.
Maintaining the form he has shown during a brilliant start to his first season with Real Madrid, the 20-year-old dominated in all phases of the game.
It was Bellingham’s tenacious run into the area that won Kane’s penalty for the equaliser.
He also set up England’s second goal by tracking back to win a tackle before rampaging forward and picking out Rashford to unlock the Italy defence.
Hailed as one of the world’s best players even at his tender age, Bellingham drew glowing praise from his manager.
“With Jude, his mentality is incredible for his age,” Southgate said.
“He’s been a catalyst. I just think the way he carries himself and the way he plays shows that. He’s had that since he walked through the door frankly.
“To have such an impact at such a young age, to show such maturity but also humility. We’re very lucky to have him.”
With Bellingham and Kane in their ranks, England will have no excuses if they return from Germany empty-handed.
World Cup News
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