Nations League win would help England eclipse 2018 glory, says captain Harry Kane
After making it to the semi-finals of the World Cup and returning to beat Spain and Croatia to reach this summer’s inaugural Nations League finals, last year will go down as a memorable one for manager Gareth Southgate’s side.
The squad are back together for the first time in 2019 and face Czech Republic and Montenegro in a Euro 2020 qualification double-header.
Back at their clubs, a host of England stars are preparing for a strong end to the campaign, with Liverpool and Manchester City fighting for the Premier League crown and six sides still in European competition.
Once the domestic season is over Kane, who insists club rivalries are easily put to one side on England duty, will lead his country into the Nations League finals in June and feels winning the first version of the competition will beat anything achieved in Russia.
“Hopefully we can win some silverware,” Kane replied when asked if 2019 could top 2018.
“If we win the Nations League 2019 will top it. I have said before to have a chance to win a trophy in an England shirt is not very often.
“If we go and have a good summer and win that trophy, in my eyes, is a better year.
“Of course 2018 was fantastic, but for me the main thing is the team and we want to win things.”
Kane lifted the golden boot as he scored six goals before England’s semi-final exit at the hands of Croatia.
The tournament, plus the further success in the Nations League group stage, will put a weight of expectation on Southgate’s young squad – but Kane insists they can cope with that as they prepare to start their campaign to reach Euro 2020.
“I think we feel that expectation where people now expect us to do well and I think before the World Cup there was no expectation,” he said.
“It is great that we have turned that around. It is down to us as players to use that experience we have had and to manage expectations.
“We know we want to win it and we want to make fans happy and be proud, but we know there is a long way ahead. It won’t be easy.
“Every top team is trying to improve and we saw some top nations at the World Cup like France and Croatia, but we have to focus on ourselves.
“But we know the chance to play a Euros where most of the games are at home is an amazing opportunity and you don’t often get that in your career so we will try and make the most of it.
“I think we’ve handled it really well since the World Cup. I think we’re the only team who got into the semi-finals at the World Cup to have got through their Nations League groups, and we had probably one of the hardest groups.
“I think that was big for us, to prove to everyone that it wasn’t just a one-off, that this team were really building for something special in the future.
“Everyone handles expectation differently. We still have players who are very young and inexperienced in this squad, so we have to manage them and make sure everyone’s okay and comfortable with the situation.”
Kane also feels the inexperienced squad will not be torn apart by inter-club rivalries, even with most involved in the tussle for trophies over the final weeks of the season.
Asked if the players have to be reminded to park their club affiliations when they join up with England, the Tottenham striker added: “It kind of happens naturally. I think everyone looks forward to coming away with England and meeting up again.
“It’s a totally different thing, of course. Of course you have a bit of banter about it, but everyone is on to England.
“That’s important. When you come away you have to give 100 per cent, so everything else is put to the side.
“When you go back (to your clubs) it starts up again. I think that’s been part of our success.
“We’ve heard about things happening in the past: people sitting on different tables and teams being divided. You just can’t have that in a team. You need to be 100 per cent together.”