Gareth Southgate believes England are better prepared for World Cup success than they were four years ago and says that mentality will be key in Saturday’s quarter-final tie against holders France.
After easily topping their group and handily defeating Senegal in the round of 16, millions of people across the country will be tuning in for Saturday’s mouthwatering match at Al Bayt Stadium.
France are favorites to progress to Wednesday’s semi-final, but England are a different beast than in 2018, when they exceeded expectations to reach the final four in a tournament where their aim was only to win a game at direct elimination.
The Southgate side finished runners-up at the European Championship last year and are now looking to beat an elite nation in a knockout match on foreign soil for the first time, with another semi-final as their reward.
“The most important thing for me in the game will be our mentality,” said the England manager. “Obviously we will be tactically prepared.
“But these nights you must have men who stand up and take the challenge. This is the part that we have to demonstrate to people.
“We had some exceptional nights and the next game is always the most important. It is against a good level opponent, for which we are ready. One, if you asked me four years ago if we were quite ready, I’m not sure.
“Now I think differently, and that’s because we have evidence over a long period of results.
“Historically we have always spoken well, but the evidence was not there. Now we have more evidence and we need to go nail this type of game now.
England are looking to reach the semi-final stage in a third successive major tournament in what Southgate this week called England’s ‘test by fire’ against the holders.
He believes France are “the best” in Qatar and staff have stepped up preparations with a detailed presentation of their opponents on Monday at 9am, just six hours after returning from the Senegal game.
There has been an external debate over the selection and setup since the round of 16 triumph, but the approach was decided some time ago.
“We decided on Monday,” said Southgate. “We had already seen all the France matches on Monday night, we had already seen our match from Senegal.
“So, we’re very clear on the right track because then you have to deliver it throughout the week. We are comfortable with where we are.
Few represent England better than 57-capped former defender Southgate, who played in four senior tournaments as a player and is now coaching in his third.
Asked if he feels better prepared now, he said: “Well, I’d be an idiot if I hadn’t learned in five years how to manage some of the biggest matches in world football, managing some of the highest profile players in Europe.
“Through the experience of working one of the highest profile jobs in the country, you learn a lot.
“You are constantly improving as a coach. After another four to five years I will be a better coach than I am now. Another hundred games or something.
“This, I think, is the challenge for every coach, every manager: you have to improve constantly, you have to find the new things that are happening that can improve the team.
“How does the team evolve over time? In Russia it was the right way to bring the best players we had at the time onto the field.
“I think we have constantly tried to evolve it, and I think we have also during this tournament.
“I know people think I prefer a certain system, but if anything my preference has always been 4-3-3, but I don’t think it was always appropriate for us to play and get the best out of the team.
“The work is not just to have a philosophy, the work is to win football matches. And you can have a philosophy, but if you go home early in the tournament then the philosophy doesn’t work, really.
“With the national team you have to keep winning. Obviously we want to win and score goals like we did this time, but the key is always to get the best out of the players you have.”