European champions Italy saw their world-record unbeaten sequence ended at 37 matches when they lost to Spain in last week’s Nations League semi-finals. France, who beat Spain in the final, now have the continent’s longest run, at 28 games. Algeria lead the world with 30.
It is 17 matches since England lost to Belgium last November. Like France, they have only been bested on penalties in that time.
They ought to be able to extend that at Wembley tonight, where victory over Hungary will put them a game away from qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. They have not lost a World Cup qualifier since Ukraine in 2009, or Northern Ireland in 2005 where qualification was still live.
Southgate, though, holds more store by the attitude of his players when they take to the field to train or play.
“It’s not so much the number, it’s the mentality because we can’t be a team that has a day off,” he said. “We want to keep the consistency of performances and we’ve had that definitely throughout this calendar. That was shown the other night (when England won 5-0 in Andorra).
“Everybody knows there’s competition for places, everybody knows they can’t afford a day off. They’ve got pride in putting the shirt on every time they play and they want to show what they’re capable of as a team.
“What pleased me after the summer was, similar to when we came back from Russia (after the 2018 World Cup), there was a desire to make the next step, a hunger to keep improving.
“There’s an edge to training which is healthy and we’ve got to keep that.
“There’s good, strong competition for places. There were lots of players who did their own confidence and their own reputations the world of good the other day, and that’s pleasing to see.”
Having reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Nations League, plus the final of last summer’s European Championships, Southgate feels England’s global reputation is improving – even if he pointedly argued they are perhaps viewed more favourably abroad.
“When I joined the FA, I knew there was a different sort of player coming through our academies,” said the former Middlesbrough captain and manager. “We wanted to change the perception of England players and English coaches.
“When I travel across Europe and talk to European coaches, there’s probably in a way a greater appreciation of what we’ve done and the way we’ve played than there has been here. I think they’ve recognised where we’ve been over the last 30 years or so, the signs that we’re starting to show and the ability of the players to play in a certain style.
“The style is different now. With every year that passes, the game gets quicker and the players get more athletic and technically better.”
Southgate has reported only a few “minor knocks” after the Andorra game, none of which are expected to rule players out. He is anyway expected to make widespread changes to the XI.
The England manager also voiced his opposition to the latest proposals by FIFA’s head of global development, Arsene Wenger, that international qualifying matches should be limited to seven a season, played either entirely in October, or in March too.
“What if your player was injured in the October? He doesn’t play international football for a year?” said Southgate.
“I saw some initial proposals but I’m not quite sure what is on the table now. It seems every time I speak to (chief executive) Mark Bullingham at the FA, there’s been another presentation and another set of proposals, it’s hard to keep up with, really.
“All I would say is that everybody needs to be there in the discussion – club football, international football.
“There can be tweaks to the calendar that would help everybody. If there are slightly fewer windows but you get the players together for a longer period of time, that might help the clubs and the international teams, but if there’s only one per year, I don’t really understand that as a concept from FIFA when international football is such an important part of what they do.
“We all want games to be meaningful and high-level games. The Nations League semi-finals and finals again showed the quality of the games there, exactly the sort of games we want to be involved in, they help teams to improve and players to improve.
“But all of that calendar needs joining up, we can’t just keep adding games.”
Last six games: England WDWWWW; Hungary LWLLDD
Last time: England 2 Hungary 1, August 11, 2010, friendly.