World Cup: History should help not hinder England, says Gareth Southgate

England manager Gareth Southgate talks to the media at the Volgograd Arena on the eve of their opening World Cup match against Tunisia (Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire).
England manager Gareth Southgate talks to the media at the Volgograd Arena on the eve of their opening World Cup match against Tunisia (Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire).
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Manager Gareth Southgate has told England’s young squad to attack the World Cup unburdened by their forerunners’ failings.

Seamless preparations have been underpinned by anticipation and hope, leaving the Three Lions in fine fettle ahead of today’s Group G opener against Tunisia in Volgograd.

Southgate’s promising young side look ready to make a mark on the world stage and help atone for the disappointments of recent tournaments.

After bowing out at the group stage of the last World Cup, England somehow managed to stoop even lower by losing to Iceland to exit Euro 2016. Tunisia marks their first major tournament match since then and the chance to kick off the finals with a victory for the first time in 12 years.

“I think the history can help us in terms of understanding what we can improve upon and what we can do,” England boss Southgate said.

“You learn lessons from the past, but this team shouldn’t be burdened with it because they’re a fresh group, most of them have very few international caps.

“The future is all ahead of them, so they have to be thinking about what’s possible.

“The players of the past and opportunities of the past are gone.

“This team is looking at things in a different way, trying to play in a different way.

“They have a hunger, a desire, we have better technical players than we’ve had in the past coming through our academies, so there’s a real enthusiasm.

“They’re looking forward to getting going.

“It’s been great to have time on the training pitch with them ,but of course when you’re in the last group to play then you’re having to sit and watch everybody else get out there.

“I don’t think they want any more information. They just want to get on with the games now.”

England enjoyed injury-free preparations for the tournament, as well as encouraging warm-up wins against Nigeria and Costa Rica.

But it is the warmth and openness of the players at St George’s Park and Repino that appear to have won over supporters.

“I think that connection with our supporters is really important,” former England defender Southgate said.

“There has been lots of perceptions about our players for a long time – and I don’t think they’ve been the truth.

“So, it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.

“In the end, it’s how we perform and how we play in this tournament.

“But there’s a bigger picture for us in that with a group of young of players, who I think are going to be together for a long time, I think it’s important people see the enthusiasm and hunger they have got to play for their country.”

Southgate spoke with a calm assurance alongside captain Harry Kane at the pre-match press conference at the Volgograd Arena.

While there was never any doubt about the striker starting against Tunisia, the England manager moved to eradicate any lingering doubts about the rest of his starting line-up.

“I think the players pretty much knew the team anyway from the way we work in training,” Southgate said. “I just felt it gives some clarity.

“It’s something that, in the couple of tournaments I played in, the managers did in the week leading up to the first game and I felt it did give everybody the opportunity just to really focus.”

What would appear to be the most negative aspect in Volgograd is out of their control, with fewer than 3,000 ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ supporters expected to cheer England in their opener.

“There’s obviously been a lot of stories leading into the tournament that have put people off coming,” Southgate said.

“We’ve tried to reassure people that we don’t see any dangers.

“I think everyone can see the security around the tournament especially, so we’re really grateful to the people who are travelling.

“It always gives us a huge lift to see the fans in the stadium.”

Kane is already playing catch-up to Cristiano Ronaldo in the World Cup scoring stakes, but the England captain is hoping to start a goal spree of his own against Tunisia.

Ronaldo turned in a classic performance with a superb hat-trick as Portugal drew 3-3 with Spain on Friday, instantly turning up the heat on the rest of the tournament’s top marksmen.

Kane said: “For sure, he’s put me under a bit of pressure. He’s a fantastic player who had a fantastic game.

“Hopefully I will score a hat-trick [tnight] and we’ll both be level.”