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England are now established as genuine contenders as they prepare to meet World Cup holders France, says manager Gareth Southgate.
England men’s solitary major honour came way back at the 1966 World Cup.
But the opinion of the Three Lions has changed since they reached the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and the final of Euro 2020, says Southgate.
“I think there’s always been a level of respect for England but I think we’ve got credibility now,” he told the BBC.
“To get to a semi-final then a final, I think the rest of the world believe that England are competitive and they know that we have performed under pressure a lot more in the last few years.
“When I travel around Europe and the world and meet football people, there’s definitely a greater appreciation of what we’ve done.”
Under Sven-Goran Eriksson, England reached the quarter-finals at three straight tournaments between 2002 and 2006.
Southgate took charge in 2016 and the Three Lions now have the chance to reach a third straight semi-final for the first time when they face France on Saturday.
“Four years ago we could have talked well but we didn’t have actual evidence of winning big matches and going through big nights together as a group,” he added.
“I think over this period of time we’ve had so many of those occasions that now there’s less satisfaction with getting to the quarter-finals, there’s more desire to go further and there’s more evidence that we’ve come through these nights well. I think for any team that’s an important part of growing.”
Southgate unsure whether Sterling will feature
Raheem Sterling missed England’s last-16 win over Senegal following a break-in at his family home in Surrey.
The Chelsea forward, 28, flew back from Qatar on Sunday but rejoin the squad in Al Wakrah on Friday so should be available for selection on Saturday.
“I haven’t had chance to sit with him yet,” said Southgate.
“We’ve spoken on the phone and I think he’s in a better place in that he feels he can come back in and has had the time he needs to help his family. Whether he’s going to have done enough to be involved in the game is a different matter.
“He’s had two long flights and missed a lot of training with the team – we’re going into the level of game where you need to be fully on it.
“It’s great that we’ve got the option of having him back with us, that he’s back with the group, but in terms of involvement for this game, that’s a bit more complicated.”
Southgate not focused solely on Mbappe
Kylian Mbappe was named Best Young Player after scoring four goals when France won the last World Cup, and he is top scorer in Qatar with five.
The pace of England right-back Kyle Walker has been seen as a way of counteracting the threat posed by the Paris St-Germain forward, but Southgate says that England will not focus on containing the 23-year-old.
“It’s the same way that we prepare for every team,” he said. “You’re looking at all the patterns of how they play, the individuals within the team. Are there specifics that need to be highlighted?
“As much as we might highlight Mbappe, we’ve got to pay due attention to Olivier Giroud and how he gets his goals, and Antoine Griezmann has played over 70 consecutive games for France. There’s a clue there in how important he is to them, I think he’s a phenomenal player.
“So if we don’t go into the detail and the specifics for those particular players in a game at this level then you’re not doing your due diligence really.”
France coach Didier Deschamps said that Southgate’s side “don’t have any weaknesses” and highlighted pace as one of their strengths.
“England are very strong in transitions – more than half of their goals have come from quick counter-attacks,” he said.
“But they have other qualities too – they have technical ability, the capacity to score goals and ability on set-pieces.”
Pickford latest to reach 50-cap milestone
Jordan Pickford is set to win his 50th cap for England on Saturday, after Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford also reached the milestone in Qatar.
Despite some dips in form, Pickford has been a mainstay in goal under Southgate, who handed the Everton keeper, 28, his England debut in 2017.
“What is the stand-out thing is that he’s handled being the England number one really well,” said Southgate.
“It’s not an easy role to have, there’s a lot of focus on it, a lot of spotlight. There have been credible alternatives at certain times that put that position under pressure but he’s maintained a really high level of performance for us right through that period.
“It’s a fantastic individual achievement,” he added. “There’s still only a low number of players that get to 50 caps and to do that you’ve got to have a decent period of time as an England international.
“For them it’s important and that experience for us, you do go through different experiences that England nights and tournaments bring.”
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