Gareth Southgate has instructed his team of England players to aim for the top spot in global soccer rankings. He reminded them of the level of excellence needed after observing a decline in their performance during the 2-0 victory against low-ranking Malta at Wembley last Friday.
The coach is getting ready for the last Euro 2024 qualifying match against North Macedonia in Skopje, at a stadium where there are concerns about the state of the field. Southgate has received news of more players dropping out of his team, as Kieran Trippier is unavailable due to personal reasons and Jarrod Bowen is sidelined with an undisclosed injury. It is possible that Rico Lewis may make his debut to fill the vacant left-back position.
Southgate was primarily worried about the mentality of his team and it was uncommon for him to express such strong words about the importance of their complete concentration. Despite England already securing their spot at the finals next year prior to the Malta game, they are highly likely to be one of the top teams in the group-phase draw on December 2nd, regardless of their outcome against North Macedonia.
England’s coach, Southgate, has determined that his team could potentially surpass Brazil and secure a third place spot on the Fifa ranking list. However, he acknowledged that there was excessive discussion within the team about the upcoming match against Malta. When questioned about the belief that their game against North Macedonia was low-risk, Southgate became defensive and disagreed. He has one more training camp in March, during which England will face Brazil and Belgium in friendly matches before he announces his European Championship squad.
“We need to improve our performance compared to our game against Malta,” the speaker stated. “Our qualification is complete, but with upcoming games, we may currently be ranked third in the world. However, we still have two spots to climb in order to meet our goal, so we cannot afford to waste any opportunities. Some players have three games left to secure a spot on the final squad, while others may have three games to earn a spot on the starting team. In order to be a top team, we must consistently deliver top-notch performances.”
“Is being ranked number one my motivation? Yes, because consistency is the key to achieving that. It also influences my daily behavior both on and off the training field. In order to maintain our top ranking, we cannot afford to be careless or lax. That must be our driving force. Our performance against Malta does not reflect the image we want to portray.”
Southgate was asked if the players may have subconsciously slacked off against Malta, now that they have secured qualification.
“Why?” he shot back. “What are we trying to do? Why would we accept that? I can’t imagine in any other environment when you would be thinking: ‘Let’s just see these games out.’ Maybe that’s why we haven’t got to where we need to as a team in the past.”
Southgate revealed concerns about potential mistakes in communication prior to the match against Malta. He expressed that the team may have been too preoccupied with discussions about the European Championship and their focus was not in the right place. He admitted that discussions about the upcoming tournament may have been a distraction during the match against Malta. These discussions were held internally within the team.
UEFA prohibited the utilization of the Tose Proeski Arena pitch for European matches in the beginning of August and declared that it should not be utilized until the start of September until problems were addressed. However, after North Macedonia tied 1-1 with Italy on the pitch, midfielder Eljif Elmas described it as “a truly embarrassing and inadequate pitch” and offered his apologies to the Italian team. Italy’s striker Ciro Immobile also expressed concerns about the safety of the pitch. It has since been replaced.
“I don’t think it has fully come together yet, but we will see,” stated Southgate. “Is it something to worry about? That’s why it’s important to secure qualification early on. We mentioned that at the beginning of the campaign – you never know what challenges you may face when playing away from home.”
Regarding Lewis, Southgate mentioned that he could potentially play as a left-back. Southgate stated, “He has experience in that position and has played many different roles for Man City.” Southgate also expressed satisfaction with Lewis’ training.