Gareth Southgate insists England are among a select band of teams that can win the World Cup – but to land glory in Qatar they must be “close to perfect”.
As he waited to learn his team’s fate in Friday’s draw, Southgate was taking confidence from the upturn in England’s performance on big stages in recent years.
A semi-final run at the 2018 World Cup in Russia was followed by another appearance in the last-four stage of the Nations League, before England went close to landing a long-awaited trophy in the delayed Euro 2020 tournament.
Reaching the final of the European Championship means England should head to Qatar in November with plenty of belief as they attempt to land a second World Cup, some 56 years after Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick against West Germany in the 1966 final.
“The World Cup is very special. It’s the pinnacle. It’s still the ultimate prize,” said Southgate.
“What have we said to the team this week? That if we can get to a semi-final, we can get to a final – which we did. And if we can get to a final, we can win.
“To do that is incredibly difficult, and we’ll have to be as close to perfect as can be. That’s the challenge for us, not just when we get to Qatar, because we’ve got to be in the right condition, even before that. That’s what we’ve got to work towards every day we’re together.”
Southgate, whose side have beaten Switzerland and Ivory Coast in the past week, added: “We know we’ve had consistent performances over a three, four-year period, and we are one of the teams – I think there are a few – that could win this tournament.”
In charge since September 2016, Southgate has surpassed most initial expectations of his reign already, bringing through an exciting generation of young players who were only denied Euro 2020 glory by Italy in a penalty shoot-out.
England have qualified for the World Cup for the 16th time, and Qatar 2022 will mark their seventh appearance in a row, their longest streak in the competition.
The Three Lions have progressed past the quarter-finals only twice since their Wembley triumph in 1966, but they have not been to another final.
This time there are signs that England might be ready to take that step. They had the best goal difference in the group stage among European qualifiers, scoring 39 goals and conceding only three, and Southgate expects other national teams will be wary of his side.
He said, quoted widely in British media on Friday: “We’ve definitely got respectability and I think we will be a team other teams wouldn’t look forward to playing. But that’s a double-edged sword though because some teams are going to prepare differently for you.
“You’re there to be shot at, and they are going to have a specific way of playing to try and stop you, but some will be a little bit fearful of you and might allow you more of the game, so from our point of view, what really matters is how it makes us feel about ourselves.”