VOLGOGRAD, Russia (Reuters) - England will go into their opening game of the World Cup against Tunisia on Monday free of the psychological burden that has built up after a string of limp tournament exits, manager Gareth Southgate said on Sunday.
England fell at the first hurdle in Brazil four years ago after failing to win a group stage game.
Two years later they were knocked out of Euro 2016 by tiny Iceland, leading to criticism that a team that was once one of the world’s top sides had lost the mental strength to compete.
“I think the history will help us in terms of understanding what we can improve upon and what we can do. We learn lessons of the past,” Southgate told reporters.
“This team shouldn’t be burdened with it because they’re a fresh group,” the coach, who has promoted young players since his appointment in 2016, said. “The players of the past and the opportunities of the past are gone.”
England go into Monday’s Group G game in the Volgograd Arena against Tunisia tipped to advance to the next stage along with the Belgium. World Cup new boys Panama make up the group.
But England supporters are taking nothing for granted after a string of disappointing exits from major tournaments — the team have not won a knockout game at a World Cup since 2006.
Southgate said he had focussed on shoring up the mindset of his players, drumming into them the importance of sticking to the game plan and being ready for all scenarios on the pitch, something he said Spain and Portugal embodied in their thrilling 3-3 draw on Friday.
“They are discussions that we’ve had quite a bit, but of course in the end you have to just keep playing as a team and winning those matches to breed that confidence,” he said.
“The most important thing is that you have an understanding about sticking to your principles, whatever the state of the game.”
Captain Harry Kane, one of the many England players who watched England’s campaign in Brazil fizzle out from his summer holidays four years ago, said Southgate had brought fresh, positive ideas to his new-look team.
“We want to attack this tournament, we want to create chances, we want to score goals,” he said.
Southgate said he had already informed his players who would be starting for England against Tunisia.
“I just felt it gives some clarity. It’s something that in a couple of tournaments I played in, the managers did in the week leading to the first game and I thought it did give everybody the opportunity to really focus.”
Reporting by William Schomberg and Alexandra Ulmer, editing by Neil Robinson