Gareth Southgate challenges England to take 'next step' towards Euro 2024 glory

England's quest to win its first major tournament since 1966 starts anew on Thursday as the Three Lions' Euro 2024 qualifying campaign begins with a challenging trip to reigning Euro champion Italy.

After taking time to consider his future following a World Cup quarterfinal loss to France in December, Gareth Southgate will remain in charge of England for a fourth attempt at glory. Southgate has overseen a transformation of his country's fortune on the international stage. But after reaching a quarterfinal, semifinal and final in its last three major tournaments, anything less than ending a 58-year trophy drought in Germany next year will be seen as a disappointment.

Southgate might have sounded a warning this week about the declining number of England-qualified players playing regularly in the Premier League, but he admitted that is a worry for the long term given the current array of available talent.

Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka and Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham proved themselves to be two of the brightest young talents in world soccer in Qatar. Harry Kane's next goal for his country will make him England's all-time leading scorer, while Marcus Rashford's potential is finally being realized under Erik ten Hag at Manchester United.

An injury to Rashford means he will miss the opening two qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine this week, but Southgate is not short of options with Manchester City duo Phil Foden and Jack Grealish set to battle it out for a place in the starting lineup.

For all the progress made under Southgate, though, victory over Germany in the round of 16 of Euro 2020 remains his only knockout win against one of the major nations in international soccer. The Three Lions outplayed France for much of the Qatar World Cup quarterfinal matchup three months ago, but still came up short when it mattered.

"These are the sorts of games where we have to show we can go to these places and win," Southgate said on the prospect of facing Italy in front of an intimidating atmosphere at the Estadio Diego Armanda Maradona in Naples. "That is the next step for us as a team."

England fell short on penalties against Italy in the Euro 2020 final on home soil and failed to beat Roberto Mancini's team in two Nations league clashes prior to the World Cup. The Three Lions did not win a single game in their Nations League campaign but were still able to bounce back close to their best once the World Cup came around.

Southgate remains wary of another drop off in standards during a qualifying process with little jeopardy for the major nations thanks to the expansion of the European Championship to 24 teams. The top two from a group also containing Ukraine, North Macedonia and Malta will automatically qualify.

"That is the big challenge we have got. To go to a World Cup, everyone wanted to be there and the fight for places was immense, the hunger was there, and it was clear. Now you have to start again," Southgate added. "I know exactly where our most senior players are with that challenge: they are ready. The (Jordan) Hendersons, the Kanes, they set the tone for that sort of mentality that is going to be needed."


© Agence France-Presse

1 comment about "Gareth Southgate challenges England to take 'next step' towards Euro 2024 glory".
  1. R2 Dad, March 23, 2023 at 5:16 a.m.

    So much field talent, yet what England lacks is a world -class #1.

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