Gareth Southgate saluted England’s application and mentality as their World Cup Qualification campaign concluded with a place at Qatar 2022 secured courtesy of a record-breaking win in San Marino.
England signed off from a year in which they reached their first European Championship final by booking their ticket to the 2022 World Cup in style, hitting double figures for the first time since 1964 as a 10-0 victory ensured Southgate’s side finished top of Group I.
The England boss was keen to point out that qualification was the reward for an accomplished campaign which served up tougher trips than the one faced in San Marino, such as Hungary, Poland and Albania.
“The qualification was earned away in Budapest, Warsaw and Albania,” Southgate told ITV after guiding England to a third international tournament under his watch.
“I have to credit all our players and staff for a very good year. We cannot do anything about the level of opposition but the mentality and the way they applied themselves was terrific.”
Southgate continued: “We knew we’d win the game. What we wanted was to challenge the team to put a high level of performance in.
“We know the opposition isn’t strong but the mentality within the group shone through again and when you’ve got senior players like Conor Coady, Tyrone Mings, Harry Maguire and Harry Kane, who set the tone, then it’s something for the young players to feed off.
“They had a structure to play in and were able to express themselves, and we finish the year, what’s been a tough year in terms of a full World Cup qualifying campaign and a full European Championship, but the mentality of the team and all of the staff, they’ve given everything and I’m very proud of what they’ve done across the year.”
Asked if thoughts had already turned to Qatar 2022, where Southgate will be tasked with taking England one step further than they managed at Euro 2020, the England manager added: “I haven’t really thought that far ahead.
“We have had 19 matches this season and there is so much to take in. This is a good opportunity to look at the last few months and what experience the younger players need before the World Cup.”
England were guided to victory by another exemplary attacking display from captain Kane, who scored four first-half goals in San Marino.
Only Wayne Rooney and Sir Bobby Charlton boast a better England goals tally than the Spurs striker, who became the first England player since Ian Wright in 1993 to score four goals in a game and scored back-to-back hat-tricks after his treble against Albania.
“If we left him on another half an hour, we would have had Wayne Rooney’s family on the phone,” Southgate added. “He is a phenomenal goalscorer, we wanted to give him the chance tonight and he took it well.
4 – Harry Kane is the fourth player to score a hat-trick for England in consecutive appearances, after Vivian Woodward (1909), Dixie Dean (1927) and Tommy Taylor (1957). Feat.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 15, 2021
“I watched Lineker, I’ve played with Rooney and Bobby Charlton is a legend of English football so, to be in that sort of company speaks volumes for the quality of finisher that he is.
“He’s got an insatiable appetite to score goals. If we win and he hasn’t scored he’s happy with the win but he’s not really happy, full stop. So, this week he’s hit that record and in some of these games against weaker opponents we haven’t given him the opportunity to play more recently.
“So, I think for him, he was desperate to be involved and we wanted to give him that chance and it’s a huge achievement to get to where he is in the number of games he has as well.”
While Kane was taking his tally to 48 international goals, Emile Smith Rowe was opening his account on the international stage.
The Arsenal forward, handed his first England start by Southgate, fired in the Three Lions’ seventh of the evening in San Marino to cap an encouraging first week of international football for the 21-year-old.
“I thought Emile has given a good account all week,” Southgate said. “His tight control is exceptional, and he has to continue what he is doing. We finished with a young side tonight.”
‘World Cup will be tough for England’
Roy Keane on ITV:
“To be fair to Gareth, he just looks like he wants a bit of a break. He’s had a hectic time. There’s a lot of pressure on England, especially playing a lot of games at home at the Euros.
“He deserves one or two months off now to reflect on where they are, recharge the batteries, and I hope the players go back and continue to work hard, do well at club level, have a little bit of luck with no injuries and before you know it you are back into the international games in March and the summer games.
“All that will take care of itself, though, and at the moment, Gareth deserves a little bit of a break.”
When asked about England’s chances of taking the final step and winning a tournament, Keane added: “It has to be I think with the players and the potential.
“Obviously a lot can change over the next few months, but at this moment in time, England have got to look at going to the World Cup and believing they can compete.
“They’ve done well over the last few years getting to a semi-final and a final, but I do think the World Cup will be really tough next November with the teams coming into it.
“But, that is where these players have got to keep working hard and try to fulfill the potential of the squad.”