Gareth Southgate says there can be no let-up for already-qualified England if they are to win next summer’s Euros and become the top-ranked team in the world.
The Euro 2020 runners-up last month sealed their place at the 2024 edition in Germany with two matches to spare and were below par in Friday’s qualifier against Malta.
England disappointed in the 2-0 victory at a packed Wembley and will look to end 2023 on a high as they round off Euro 2024 qualification in North Macedonia.
— England (@England) November 19, 2023
Southgate’s side arrived in Skopje all but assured of being among the top seeds in December’s draw in Hamburg, but every moment counts as they seek to be best on the planet.
“Qualification’s done,” the England boss said ahead of the Group C finale.
“With the games at the weekend, we might be ranked third in the world at the minute, but we’re two places off where we need to be so we can’t waste games.
“Some of the players have got three games to get into a squad, some have got maybe three to get into a team, maybe a couple more if we’re talking about the team.
“There’s some things we’d like to see. But if we’re going to be a top team, then the level of performance has got to be spot on every time.”
Asked if being number one drives him on, Southgate said: “Yeah, because ultimately you achieve that through consistency and you’ve got to play well in the tournaments as well because the ranking points are higher in the tournaments.
“Also, it sets behaviours every day on the training pitch, off the training pitch.
“If you are going to be the top-ranked team, there’s no room for sloppiness or casualness. That’s got to be our drive.”
England currently sit fourth in FIFA’s world rankings, making it five straight years of being in the top five.
Their previous best since its launch was six months in the top five across 1997 and 1998, yet there remains plenty of criticism for Southgate and speculation about his future.
Monday will be England’s final qualifier before the manager’s contract expires next year and he smiled when it was mentioned that former Football Association executive David Dein had said he should get a new deal.
Asked if he anticipated this being his final qualifier in the hotseat, Southgate said: “I haven’t thought about it, really.
“I’ve thought about the game tomorrow and the need for a better performance than Friday so that’s what I’ve been focusing on.
“I feel almost as if we’ve almost talked too much about the Euros already and I didn’t see our focus in the right place at the weekend.
“So, it’s tomorrow, then it’s March, then it’s the summer. And we go from there.”
Southgate downplayed suggestions of his future being a distraction but suggested his comments about their Euros ambitions may have been.
“Well, I think talk of the summer was a distraction on Friday in its own way,” he added.
“Look, in football management, frankly I think you should look no further than three or four games ahead anyway.
“But I think when you’ve got a tournament coming up, inevitably, as an international manager, you’re going to be judged on tournaments so everybody before that is pretty futile, really.”
England’s final camp of the year has been disrupted by absentees.
Five players withdrew from the original squad through injury and two more departed the squad before they flew out to the Balkans.
The FA announced Kieran Trippier had gone home due to a personal issue, while injury meant Jarrod Bowen left the camp on Sunday.
A soldout Tose Proeski Arena awaits England’s absentee-hit 21-man squad as the Macedonians look to make up for June’s 7-0 hiding at Old Trafford.
“We play a team who, although they can’t qualify, have tremendous pride and they’ll be wounded by what happened in Manchester,” Southgate added.
“We have to be ready for a really good atmosphere. Full crowd, full stadium.
“We’ve had a calendar year where we’ve been very good, so we want to finish well.”