Gareth Southgate is proud of England’s progress but now the focus returns to development as his World Cup heroes look to build on their Russian adventure.
Spain kick off the next cycle in Saturday’s UEFA Nations League opener at Wembley, the Three Lions’s first game since their memorable summer run to the semi-finals.
Harry Kane will be presented with the Golden Boot as a sell-out crowd show their appreciation to the England squad, but Southgate knows they cannot bask for long in the World Cup afterglow.
The 48-year-old points to the fact there are just 20 matches and 10 camps before Euro 2020 and reiterated his side are far from the finish product.
“It’s about development as a team, back to improvement,” Southgate said.
“Over the summer you’re looking for results – now it’s about improving as a team, developing the way we play. Improving the tactical detail of the way we play and testing ourselves over the next few months, in particular, against some really top teams.
“The summer was brilliant and it’s great that we have a full house and that everybody will feel the appreciation and that we can step out in front of our fans again. But for us now the summer is finished and it’s about the next step and the next challenges.
“Sport doesn’t stand still for anybody. You’ve got to move forward, continually evolve, increase that competition.
“I know the players are of the same mentality, they’re all of an age where what’s next is the most important thing.”
This group have already achieved a lot, from ending England’s major tournament knockout hoodoo to reaching the last four and finally triumphing in a penalty shoot-out.
Saturday’s clash with Spain offers the chance to get another monkey off their back by beating a top side in a competitive match.
“I think we want to test ourselves against the very best,” Southgate said ahead of the Group A4 encounter.
“The last 18 months we chose to play Brazil, Germany, Spain, Italy, so we weren’t hiding from those fixtures.
“If you look back through history, England’s competitive record against top teams is non-existent. I think bar Argentina in 2002, who were a big disappointment in that tournament anyway, it’s very rare since the late 60s or early 1970s that we beat those top teams.
“So, this isn’t just this team, historically it’s not impressive. Ideally over the next couple of years we’d like to be going into European Championship with a record of beating top teams, so that you go in with that real belief and confidence.”
England missed an opportunity to end that wait in the third-place play-off against Belgium, while the semi-final loss to Croatia has not been brushed under the carpet.
“We reviewed it as we do most games, really,” Southgate said of the Moscow semi-final.
“Spain is a slightly different tactical test. They have outstanding midfield players in the same way Croatia did, but not the identical test that we faced. And, of course, we don’t 100 per cent know how they’re going approach the game with the new coach (Luis Enrique).”
Southgate says he will largely name the same side that started against Croatia on Saturday, with Luke Shaw pushing to come in for the overlooked Ashley
Young as Raheem Sterling’s injury withdrawal opens up an attacking role.
But the first name on the team sheet is likely be Kane, who joined Southgate in the pre-match press conference and will wear a pair of gold boots against Spain.
“I think if I look at other international managers, they would love to be in the position I am in to be able to pick him,” Southgate said of his skipper.
“I’ve sat with a few at matches over the last couple of months and they’ve told me exactly that.
“The great thing is Harry is 24, so to have reached the level he has already and with time on his side is really exciting.”
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The Red Devils have endured an uncomfortable start to the season as their inability to further strengthen their squad was compounded by shock back-to-back defeats that ratcheted up the pressure on manager Jose Mourinho.
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Wales boss Ryan Giggs singled out Gareth Bale for praise after his players crushed Nations League opponents the Republic of Ireland.
Tom Lawrence, Bale – with his 30th goal for Wales – Aaron Ramsey and Connor Roberts were on target before Republic substitute Shaun Williams provided some cheer for the visitors in a 4-1 defeat at Cardiff City Stadium.
Giggs was enthused about a trademark box office display from Bale ahead of what is now likely to be an appointment with a full-strength Denmark in Aarhus on Sunday after a dispute about players’ commercial rights was resolved.
Root, who took over as England captain from Cook last year, spoke of his sadness when the all-time national record runscorer took him aside last week to explain his 161st Test will be his last.
England subsequently sealed the Specsavers series with a 60-run success to go 3-1 up with one to play, and Root is hoping the stage is set for both Cook and his team to deliver the perfect send-off.
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Diego Maradona has taken a new job in football after being confirmed as the technical director of Dorados de Sinaloa.
Earlier the Mexican club announced it had parted company with Francisco Ramirez Gamez, and rumours began to swirl that Maradona would step into the role.
That appointment was confirmed on Thursday evening, with the club tweeting a picture of the 57-year-old and the team’s logo.
A statement on the club’s website said: “The Argentine will take the reins of the Great Fish.”
“Considered by many to be the best footballer of all time, Diego was known in his playing career for leading teams with guts and fight to carry them to successes that few believed possible,” it added.
The Argentinian World Cup winner was named chairman of Belarusian side Dynamo Brest in May, but has yet to play a full-time role.
The driving force of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup triumph also starred as a player for Barcelona, Boca Juniors and Napoli. He managed his country at the 2010 World Cup but left his role after that tournament.
Dorados play in the second tier of the Mexican league, and have yet to win after six games of the Ascenso MX season.