Gareth Southgate swiftly pressed the reset button after beating Croatia as the England manager refocused on the eagerly-anticipated Euro 2020 clash against Scotland.
Three years on from the heart-breaking World Cup semi-final loss to Zlatko Dalic’s men in Russia, the Three Lions exacted a measure of revenge by winning their tournament opener in sweltering conditions on Sunday.
Raheem Sterling’s first major tournament goal – and England’s first at Wembley in front of fans since November 2019 – was enough to secure a 1-0 victory that saw them take a big step towards qualifying from Group D.
Southgate was pleased to be able to put smiles on the faces of fans across the nation, but his joy came with repeated mentions about areas of improvement and the need to retain hunger.
The England boss wants his players to go back to the mindset they had before beating Croatia in a bid to avoid getting “a bit soft” ahead of welcoming old rivals Scotland to Wembley on Friday evening.
“We had a good day and a good performance, but we know what football is and we know how sport works,” Southgate said. “We haven’t achieved our first objective yet.
“So it’s really pleasing that everybody outside is happy and we can go home, back to St George’s (Park), pleased with the day’s work. But we have to move to the next.
“Of course, expectations are always going to be there. We have to handle that.
A positive start 👊— England (@England) June 14, 2021
“But as long as that’s realistic – you saw the age of the team, the number of caps compared to the opponent, we’re still growing and learning and to be able to bring boys like (17-year-old) Jude (Bellingham) into that environment is also hugely encouraging.
“It was a good day. We know we have to start again in the morning.”
Southgate wants boosted confidence to bolster determination rather than dilute it as England welcome the wounded Scots.
Their major tournament return after a 23-year absence ended in a 2-0 loss the Czech Republic at Hampden Park on Monday, heightening the importance of Friday’s game for Scotland.
“I think we should always enjoy the win and the players should enjoy what they’ve done,” Southgate said. “And the country can enjoy it for as long as they want, but we can’t, we’ve got to move on to the next one.
“We’ve got to find that state that is really difficult sometimes in sport, where you’ve got back to where you were before the start of the game.
“It’s nice to have confidence from the performance, but we’ve got to have the same hunger, the same desire, find that same state going into that game on Friday.
“Totally different challenge. Big opposition and we haven’t achieved our objective of qualifying yet. A lot for us to do.”
It was as ideal a start to Group D as Southgate could have wished for and vindicated some of the decisions that raised eyebrows.
Sterling justified his inclusion ahead of much-loved Jack Grealish by scoring the winner, while midfielder Kalvin Phillips put in a man-of-the-match display on his first appearance at a major tournament.
The biggest surprise was right-back Kieran Trippier being deployed on the left of a back four, but he nullified Croatia’s threat down his flank and helped shore up the backline.
“What Kieran has, firstly, is hugely underestimated,” said Southgate, who was happy with his side’s game management as Croatia increased the pressure.
“I think people are still seeing the lad that was at Spurs a couple of years ago and not the defensive animal that has grown at Atletico Madrid, trusted by one of the best coaches and most successful coaches in the world (Diego Simeone).
“He gets his distances right on cover, he’s good in one v one to stop crosses and his talking is really good.
“We had a back four, there was always going to have changes in it and we felt that communication, that organisation was an important part.
“We’ll look at every opponent, we’ll look at our team for every game, I think we have to have flexibility.
“We’ve got players who came into the game and did a great job and we’ve got other players in the squad who’re going to have a really important part to play.
“That will work its way around, there’s going to be opportunities for a lot more players in the next couple of weeks.”
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