England captain Harry Kane believes the Three Lions can eclipse their achievements of 2018 by enjoying another stellar 12 months.
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 Gareth Southgate’s side.
The squad are back together for the first time in 2019 and face the 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. 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, (that), 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.”
West Ham midfielder Declan Rice is determined to look forward after earning a first England call-up, which had him “bursting with pride” and feeling better from illness.
The 20-year-old was named in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers after being granted FIFA clearance to switch international allegiance from the Republic of Ireland.
Rice had appeared for the Republic of Ireland’s youth teams and also won three senior caps, but they were all in friendlies, which meant he was clear for a change of representation.
It remains to be seen whether Southgate will throw the midfielder into action when the Three Lions kick off their Group A campaign against the Czech Republic at Wembley before heading to Montenegro.
Rice, who was last week named Ireland’s Young Player of the Year, will take whatever opportunity he is given to impress following what had been a drawn-out international transfer.
“You can’t describe it. I just couldn’t believe it,” Rice said in an interview with the football Association, broadcast via social media channels on Tuesday evening.
“I was ill the day last week that the squad got announced. My dad came home and we were watching the TV and it came up that I was in the squad.
“I was just bursting with pride. It’s everything that you’ve wanted to work for as a kid and it has come true. The call-up is one of the best feelings you’re ever going to feel.”
Southgate maintains Rice’s club form warranted his first England call-up, but offered no guarantees to the Hammers player.
“It was a really tough decision. I think everyone knows my situation with the Republic of Ireland. I’ve played there in the youth setup, but I had to make a decision that was best for me,” Rice said.
“As you can hear, I am English, I am from England and it was really good playing for Ireland.
“Now I’m just really looking forward to the future and pulling on the England shirt. I’ve just got to look forward and forget about the past.”
Part of the side that won the Under-17 World Cup in 2017, the 18-year-old has been subject of sustained interest from Bayern Munich having made his first-team breakthrough at Stamford Bridge this season.
Hudson-Odoi has yet to start a Premier League match for Chelsea but Gareth Southgate has promoted the talented winger to the senior squad after Manchester United’s Luke Shaw became the fourth player to withdraw through injury.
It has been a whirlwind day for the teenager, who had been in Bristol preparing for his first taste of international Under-21 football with Aidy Boothroyd’s side when the call came.
Hudson-Odoi had barely finished his lunch with the Young Lions before heading up to St George’s Park to join the senior team for the Euro 2020 double-header against the Czech Republic and Montenegro.
“It’s been a crazy day but getting my first (senior) international call-up is an amazing feeling,” the 18-year-old said.
“Today has been a very long day for me because I had to travel to Bristol first for the U21s and then getting told that I have to come over here to St George’s Park.
“It’s been a crazy experience but I’m delighted to get the call and it’s a nice feeling to be here as well.
“I thought the manager was joking. I was shocked and then when I heard that I actually had to go over, I couldn’t believe it. I was delighted.
“It’s a dream come true. Now I’ve got to work hard, enjoy every moment and keep working to just hopefully make an impact when I get the opportunity.
“Everybody here is very humble and they’re very nice. They make sure you’re comfortable, no-one has an ego here so hopefully I get to know more of the boys here.”
Hudson-Odoi had already been in the news on Monday after Chelsea confirmed they had lodged a formal complaint with UEFA over racist abuse aimed at the player during the closing stages of the 5-0 Europa League win away to Dynamo Kiev last week.
The 18-year-old scored in the Ukrainian capital and will become the youngest Chelsea player in history to play for England if he makes his debut this month.
Hudson-Odoi is the second new addition to the squad after in-form Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse linked up with the Three Lions earlier in the day.
There was some surprise about his omission from the 25-man squad named last week and Southgate had no hesitation in turning to his former Under-21 captain after Fabian Delph, John Stones and Ruben Loftus-Cheek pulled out of the squad.
Delph was replaced less than an hour into Manchester City’s FA Cup quarter-final win at Swansea, which team-mate Stones missed with a groin injury.
Loftus-Cheek came on as a second-half substitute as Chelsea lost to Everton on Sunday and has now been replaced by former Young Lions team-mate Ward-Prowse.
The 24-year-old has flourished under Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, who has helped add aggression and goals to the midfielder’s game.
Ward-Prowse has scored six goals since the turn of the year, including stunning free-kicks in Southampton’s last two matches, and was in such impressive form that Southgate was quizzed about why he had overlooked him last week.
“We love Prowsey,” the Three Lions boss said. “I’ve been accused of being a father of Prowsey over the years.
“This most recent spell is his best spell since we capped him before. He is, I would say, a world-class deliverer of set-plays.
“But he’s only recently got back into the team at Southampton. I think we’ve got some (good) midfield players and it isn’t a straightforward selection.”