Hungary v England: Gareth Southgate hoping to avoid any World Cup mishaps

Gareth Southgate has told his England players they can take control of their World Cup qualifying campaign with victory in Budapest tonight – but only if they stay humble.

Because of the unusual circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign has sandwiched a European Championship, where normally they are two completely separate entities.

England resume theirs against Hungary tonight having made a 100 per cent start from their first three matches. The hosts have dropped two points, drawing with England’s opponents on Wednesday, Poland. In between time, Southgate’s men host pointless Andorra.

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“The two away games this week are both going to be hugely challenging, two good teams and pivotal games in terms of qualification,” said Southgate. “You can’t predict what your hardest games are going to be but we know Hungary are a very good side and they’re second in the group.

England's Harry Kane (left) and Harry Maguire during a training session at St George's Park, Burton upon Trent. Picture: PA

“In terms of qualification it’s a really important opportunity for us because if you can take points off your nearest challengers in their own home it puts us in a really strong position. We would be in control of the group, basically.

“That can then lead into the games later in the week but I think we’re just looking at this first game. We’ve prepared well for it, we know the sort of test we’re going to face.”

England will be favourites having only missed out on winning the European Championship after a penalty shoot-out. They were also semi-finalists at the last World Cup.

But Southgate noted how Hungary frustrated Portugal for 80 minutes at home in their Euro 2020 group match before losing 3-0, and they took points off France, again in Budapest, and Germany away. If England take them lightly, they could be embarrassed.

England manager Gareth Southgate.

“We’re a team that have had progress because we’ve shown humility in the way we’re prepared to work, to defend as a team,” said the former Middlesbrough player and manager. “We know we’ve got players who can create chances and play good football but everything starts from that work ethic and if you lose that as a team and you don’t have that right, you’re vulnerable.

“So that’s the start point for us, we’ve got to make sure we’re back to where we were and not thinking just because we got to a final everything is going to roll on and we can just walk out and beat teams.

“I think our principles of play are very clear to the lads that have been with us for a while and the boys have picked up that togetherness and spirit very quickly. We just have to focus our minds on a different kind of challenge.

“But I don’t expect that to be a problem in terms of the mentality of the players we have.”

The atmosphere in the Puskas Stadium, the only Euro 2020 venue allowed to be at full capacity, was at times febrile and not always politically correct, but it holds no fears for Southgate, whose players played every game but one in the tournament at a very supportive Wembley.

“We of course have talked to the players about a different atmosphere because we were at home all the way through the summer apart from the one game in Rome (the quarter-final against Ukraine) but that is the test as a top player. You’ve got to go into these stadiums with opposition fans and show the resilience and the fortitude to play and control the game.

“All of our players are playing in big matches most weeks where they face that sort of challenge. A lot of them are playing European football, we’ve got experienced players in the side now, so it’s nothing they haven’t faced in the past.”

Coming from the adrenaline rush of England’s first major final since 1966 to qualifying matches they have become so adept at in recent years will provide a psychological test, according to Sheffield-born centre-back Harry Maguire.

“It (Euro 2020) ended in disappointment but the journey, the memories we made, the smiles we put on people’s faces were there for everyone to see,” said the former Sheffield United player. “It was a great journey, disappointing in the end to come so close to being European champions, a penalty shoot-out away.

“We know we’re nearly there, we’ve got lots of things to improve on and this is a big test, more mentally than physically.

“We’ve spoken about it and we need to be ready because it’s going to be a tough test away to Hungary and if we’re not ready mentally we won’t perform to our best and get the result we need. The mentality will be tested and we need to show what we’re about.”

England’s only injury concern is over recent Manchester United signing Jadon Sancho, who picked up a “minor knock” in training.