England still have work to do to secure World Cup qualification, but preparations for Russia are well under way as Gareth Southgate attempts to prevent their all-too-frequent major tournament struggles.
Having gone out of at the group stage in Brazil before finishing their malaria tablets three years ago, the Three Lions bowed out of Euro 2016 at the last-16 juncture to minnows Iceland.
Those failings are fresh in the mind of the man now in charge, with former England defender Southgate outlining his desire to become the world’s best upon his permanent appointment as manager. Such lofty ambitions means all decisions have been made with the World Cup in Russia in firmly mind, even if Saturday’s thrilling 2-2 draw at Hampden Park against Scotland saw their lead at the top of Group F cut to just two points.
“That is the challenge for us,” Southgate said when asked about improving performances on the major stages.
“The challenge is how do we become the best team in the world? We have to improve in all areas to do that.
“We can only take steps at a time and work as a team to improve every area – whether that’s technical, tactical, psychological.
The challenge is how do we become the best team in the world? We have to improve in all areas to do that.England manager, Gareth Southgate.
“But we are identifying those areas and we’ll keep working on it.
“You have short-term objectives in winning individual games but in the background a lot of the work we’re doing is to start to prepare us for the finals.
“Now you can’t take your eye off the immediate goal of being able to get there, but we also can’t wait for qualifying and wait until next March before we start working towards things.
“We intend to focus on a lot of area we feel we can improve on.”
The Football Association has been looking at potential training bases in Russia as logistical planning begins ahead of the World Cup.
On the field Southgate is trying to increase the leadership and camaraderie within a group that lacks experience but boasts boatloads of promise.
The England boss took the squad away with the Royal Marines in an unorthodox start to the international break and, having boldly – if understandably – overlooked Wayne Rooney, handed Harry Kane the captaincy in Scotland.
The 23-year-old was the fifth man to captain the Three Lions in Southgate’s seven matches and rose to the occasion, firing home a late leveller after two stunning Leigh Griffiths free-kicks put Scotland on the brink of a famous win.
“I think it was an important moment for the team, an important moment individually for Harry ,” added.
“I have a feeling we might have been sitting here talking about how long it was since he last scored for England if he hadn’t scored it.
“Brilliant for him that in a pressure moment he executed a skill that I think he made look a lot easier than actually it was.
“I think it is a significant goal but for many different reasons.”
Captaincy is sure to be another big topic in Paris, where England end their season with a glamour friendly against France.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goalscoring impact off the bench in Glasgow gives him a chance of a start, while Ben Gibson and Kieran Trippier will be hoping to make their senior debuts.
Joe Hart, under scrutiny following Griffiths’s brace, could well be replaced given Southgate named four goalkeepers in a squad that gives him options heading to the Stade de France.
“I think you saw both teams going down with cramp,” the England boss said at Hampden Park.
“It was a really hot day, a very sticky pitch and a couple of weeks really since anybody’s played 90 minutes.
“We’ll have to assess physically what has been taken out of the team and also we want to learn something from the game in Paris as well.
“We’ll make some changes but I can’t say how many until we’ve assessed everybody.”