WATFORD, England (Reuters) - England coach Gareth Southgate has targeted an improvement on the country’s poor competitive record against the best international sides as they prepare to face Spain in their opening UEFA Nations League game on Saturday.
Wembley is sold out for England’s first game since they rekindled public enthusiasm by reaching the World Cup semi-finals, where they lost to Croatia, yet Southgate still feels his side need to make progress against quality opposition.
“If you look back through history at England’s competitive record against top teams it’s non-existent,” he told a news conference on Friday ahead of the League A, Group 4 game.
“Bar Argentina in 2002, who were disappointing (as England won 1-0 in a World Cup group game), it’s very rare going back to the 1970s, late 1960s that we beat those top teams. So it’s not just this team, historically the record is not impressive.
“Ideally over the next two years we’d like to go into the European Championship with a record of beating the top teams. To do that we’ve got to improve in every area.”
England will be up against a new look Spain with coach Luis Enrique making his debut in the dugout in their first gae since a shock exit to hosts Russia in the World Cup last 16.
“It’ll be very tough. We know the depth of quality they have despite the disappointment..., Southgate said of the 2010 world champions.
“The manager will want to implement his own ideas - there will be differences Luis Enrique will want to impose - but they have some wonderful footballers and it’s a really good test for us.”
England captain Harry Kane will wear gold boots in his first international after winning the Golden Boot as top scorer at this year’s World Cup, although he said he was disappointed with his displays in Russia overall despite scoring six times.
“I feel fully fit, I could have done better at the World Cup if I’m perfectly honest. I scored some good goals but there were some finishes where I could have done better,” Kane said.
“To win a Golden Boot at a World Cup and feel I could have done better is an exciting thing.”
The striker also welcomed the fact that the supporters’ expectations are likely to have been raised by England’s best showing at a major tournament since Euro 1996.
“There probably is (more pressure) and that’s a good thing. At any tournament you have to be able to handle the pressure and can we do it every couple of years? The semi-final was great for us but we want to experience a final and lifting those trophies.
“It’s fantastic the stadium is sold out, we just want to put in a good performance like in the summer.”
World Cup runners-up Croatia are the other team in England’s Nations League group with the teams meeting next month.
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris