Gareth Southgate wants a complete World Cup performance as England look to progress to the knockout phase as group winners and end neighbours Wales’ Qatar stay in the process.
Having enjoyed their best ever start to a major tournament by thrashing Iran 6-2 last Monday, the side played out a frustrating 0-0 stalemate with the United States four days later.
England are assured of progress to the last 16 should they avoid a four-goal defeat to Wales, whose hopes hang by a thread after drawing with the US and losing to Iran in heart-breaking fashion.
All eyes will be on Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium as the rivals go toe-to-toe on Tuesday, when Southgate’s men can bring the curtain down on Wales’ first World Cup appearance since 1958.
“We want to win football matches,” the England boss said. “We have got to balance freshness with stability, so that’s always a decision you’re making when you’re picking a team.
“We’ve got a chance to win the group with a positive result, so there’s a lot for both teams resting on the game.
“There’s no game where there isn’t pressure on either team and really our performance is the key.
“We played well with the ball in our first game, scored a lot of goals. The second game was tougher for us, we defended really well.
“Now we want to put both elements of the game together.”
England head into the match as favourites against a Welsh side looking for their first World Cup win since 1958 – and first against their neighbours since 1984.
“They obviously have some world-class players who can produce moments of brilliance and have done for a long time with their clubs, with their country,” Southgate said. “They have a good spirit, they have a good organisation.
“We know the quality of the Ukraine team they beat to get to these finals and we know that they seem to have additional motivation to play against England from what they’re saying.”
Among those comments were those from towering Wales striker Kieffer Moore, who this month said he would love to knock out England.
“He’s entitled to say whatever he wants leading into a game,” Southgate said when the former England C international’s comments were put to him. “I’d be amazed if he didn’t feel that way.
“We’ve got to just focus on what we’re about, preparing for the game in our normal way.
“We’ve got to bring our quality to the game and composure and play with tempo that makes our team really difficult to play against.
“So, it’s pointless us focusing on what is said before the game. We’ve got to go on the pitch and play well.”
Southgate seemed in relaxed mood at the pre-match press conference, with laughter filling the room at the Qatar National Convention Centre when asked to explain the rivalry.
“Well, basically they’re here and we’re right there!” he said with a smile. “There’s not a lot more I can say than that, really.
“It’s like any two countries whose borders are next to each other.
“There’s a competitive rivalry. For me, it’s a great sporting rivalry. It’s no more than that.
“That feeling might not be mutual, but I can understand that as well. I live in Yorkshire. They feel the same about the rest of England, so that’s where we’re at.
“It’s going to be a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium and we’re really looking forward to the game.”
Southgate expects full-hearted backing from England’s supporters despite boos greeting the final whistle against the USA.
“I’m not really sure what the thing in the stadium was because when we went over to our fans I thought they were really good at the end of the game,” he said.
“We know there’ll be a lot of supporters of both countries there. It’s going to be a cracking atmosphere.
“Our fans will be with us for sure. There’s no question about that.
“I think they know the journey this team has been on over the last two tournaments, in particular.
“We’re top of the group at the moment, still a bit to do to qualify. But, as I said earlier, if we can win this game, then we can win the group and that was the first objective when we set out at the start of the tournament.”
Southgate is unlikely to make wholesale changes as a result, but there has been talk in the build-up about the benefits of resting captain Harry Kane with the knockout phase in mind.
“Obviously we’re going to pick a team that we believe can win the game,” he said when asked about the 2018 Golden Boot winner. “That’s our priority always.
“He’s fine in terms of the knock he had, which even though we keep saying it’s his foot everybody keeps saying it’s his ankle. I don’t quite know why that is but it’s his foot. He’s trained well, the whole group has.”