Southgate says ‘we’ve got a great shot at glory’ after Euro 2020 draw

Gareth Southgate has challenged his England players to enjoy the most successful 18 months in more than half a century for the national team.

Southgate was in Dublin on Sunday for what was a favourable Euro 2020 qualifying draw for his team and he looked ahead to what he considers a ‘great opportunity’ to win two trophies, starting with the Nations League in Portugal next summer.

The draw for England had a distinctly Balkan flavour, with Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Kosovo joining Southgate’s side in Group A. 

Gareth Southgate attended the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying draw in Dublin, Ireland on Sunday

Gareth Southgate attended the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying draw in Dublin, Ireland on Sunday

Gareth Southgate attended the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying draw in Dublin, Ireland on Sunday

England were drawn in a group with Czech Repulic, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Kosovo

England were drawn in a group with Czech Repulic, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Kosovo

England were drawn in a group with Czech Repulic, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Kosovo

Gareth Southgate was happy with the fairly easy draw, and said it gives them a chance at glory

Gareth Southgate was happy with the fairly easy draw, and said it gives them a chance at glory

Gareth Southgate was happy with the fairly easy draw, and said it gives them a chance at glory

HOW THE EURO QUALIFYING GROUPS WORK 

There are 10 groups. Groups A-E contain five teams and Groups F-J contain six teams. The top two teams qualify automatically for the tournament in 2020. The remaining four spaces are made up by the UEFA Nations League play-off winners. A team who won their group in the Nations League is assured of at least a play-off place. However, should one of those teams qualify automatically through via the Euro 2020 qualifying groups then their spot in the play-offs will go to the next-best ranked team in their league that hasn’t qualified for the Euros. 

Matches to be played in the March, June, September, October and November 2019 international breaks.

It meant England avoided Germany and a potentially difficult encounter with home nations opposition, significantly enhancing their chances of qualifying for a tournament that could well enable Harry Kane and his team-mates to contest as many as five games at Wembley.

‘Germany was the obvious outlier in Pot B and there were some teams like Serbia and the possibility of tricky fixtures against some other home nations so, look, it’s up to us, isn’t it?’ said the manager, who will learn on Monday who England will play in the Nations League semi-finals in Portugal next June.

‘It can be a really exciting 18 months. We’ve got this coming summer to look forward to and then a big chance because we host and we have to make sure we are there. That could be an incredibly exciting two-year period from the World Cup right through and a great opportunity for our players.

‘Whatever they are feeling today, once they think about what qualification leads to should be motivation enough to make sure the performances are right.’  

After guiding his side to a World Cup semi-final and those marvellous, more recent victories against Spain and Croatia, Southgate accepts that the levels of expectation have risen. ‘We’re favourites and that’s something we’ve got to start getting used to,’ he said. ‘We’re going to have high expectations over the next few years and adapting to that is probably key to our development as a team now.

‘There will be an advantage to being at home. If you look at any major sporting event, hosting it brings a different focus as well as some pressures. But it is an advantage for you so you have to capitalise on those moments.’

Southgate experienced the joy and excitement of Euro 96 and he says playing in a tournament in England is something his players should relish.

‘Everything that we were feeling from afar (in Russia) is on the doorstep and you are more in tune with the television,’ he said. ‘I know you get that through social media now. But everywhere you go, everywhere you travel, you just get the good wishes and the feeling of the energy. 

Harry Kane will be leading England into the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign from next year

Harry Kane will be leading England into the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign from next year

Harry Kane will be leading England into the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign from next year

‘So it is hugely exciting. I guess at this stage not everybody has thought quite so much about what that actually means but it should be a great event to be involved in. And what we want is international football to be as exciting for our fans and exciting for our public as possible over the next 18 months.’

Kosovo represent a new challenge but England’s record against their other Group A rivals is encouraging — 16 games without defeat.

The Kosovans seem to be thrilled to be playing England. Their Swiss coach, Bernard Challandes said: ‘When England come to Pristina it will be the biggest event in the history of football in Kosovo. It’s not only about football, it’s for the pride of the country.’

‘In Pristina our stadium is unfortunately small — for our last match against Azerbaijan we had 200,000 requests for tickets but the capacity is only 13,000. The demand for tickets when England come will be huge and it will be an incredible atmosphere. 

England's stars will be happy with their easy fixtures, but will still need to turn up and play well

England's stars will be happy with their easy fixtures, but will still need to turn up and play well

England’s stars will be happy with their easy fixtures, but will still need to turn up and play well

‘To play at Wembley is a dream, whether as a player or a coach. Sometimes a dream can turn into a nightmare but I’m very excited.’

Montenegro coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic claims his team are not the force they were when they held Fabio Capello’s side to two draws. ‘When England previously played Montenegro, the national team was ambitious,’ he said. ‘I have been head coach for three years and compared with that squad, who played four times against England, there are many new players. We are a young team.’

Even if the FA should be nervous about the prospect of England fans in Prague, Southgate’s side were not really the story here. UEFA will be similarly concerned about a draw that brought Germany and Holland together, and there was an unfortunate outcome for Northern Ireland.

There was a gasp in the auditorium when the Republic of Ireland were drawn in Group C with the Germans and the Dutch, only for Mick McCarthy’s side to then get moved to Group D because only two of the 12 tournament hosts could be drawn in any one group. When Michael O’Neill’s side were then drawn from the pots, they instead went into Group C.

‘It’s probably the most difficult group,’ said O’Neill. ‘We’re going to have to have a couple of massive nights in Belfast to give ourselves a chance of qualification.’

VAR will be used from the last 16 of this season’s Champions League, UEFA will confirm on Monday. They had planned to introduce it from next season but feel ready to bring it in from February.

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