Volgograd, Russia (AFP) — Gareth Southgate says his young side is ready to ditch its tag as chokers that has haunted England at previous major tournaments.
“This team shouldn’t be burdened with that because they’re a fresh group, most of them have very few international caps, so the future is all ahead of them,” Southgate told reporters at the Volgograd Arena on Sunday.
England failed to get out of their group in Brazil in 2014 and were humiliated by tiny Iceland in Euro 2016 in France, but Southgate insisted his side were only looking to the future.
“They’ve got to be thinking about what’s possible, the players of the past and the opportunities of the past are gone,” said Southgate
The manager explained why he believed this World Cup could be a turning point for the England as they prepare to face Tunisia in their Group G opener today.
“This team is looking at things in a different way, trying to play in a different way,” he said.
“The first thing is to have a really clear understanding of how we want to play because when you’re in tense moments of games everybody knows they’re in their individual role and the team are connected on the pitch,” said Southgate.
“You have to stick to your beliefs. We saw Spain and Portugal other night — whatever the stage of the game they stuck to what they do well. We’ve got to have that strength of character to do that.”
England are captained by prolific goalscorer Harry Kane, who promised his side would be fearless in going forward against the north Africans.
“First and foremost, we are going to want to attack the game. We feel like we are going to have a lot of possession of the ball,” the Tottenham striker said.
Tunisia Coach Nabil Maaloul earlier rated England among the favourites to win the World Cup despite their abject record in recent major tournaments.
“I was in the stadium when they played Iceland (in 2016),” he said. “Now they are a stronger side. The result is not going to be the same tomorrow.”
Maaloul is aware of the firepower England possess in Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard, but singled out Dele Alli as the player the north Africans must stop.
“He is a great player,” said Maaloul. “He is a midfielder who can play anywhere — centre, forward or deep midfield, up front on his own or wide on the left.
“We know how easily Alli and Kane can find each other and their understanding so we must divide them. The most dangerous thing for me is the way he sees the match and plays the last pass.”
The 45,500-seater stadium for today’s match stands on one of the major battlefields of World War II, in the city formerly known as Stalingrad.
Two million people died during the Battle of Stalingrad and the new Volgograd Arena is within a short walk of the famous 85-metre-high Mamayev Kurgan, or “Motherland Calls” monument, the tallest statue in Europe.
Southgate said the statue, which dominates the hillside overlooking the stadium, was a poignant reminder of the city’s history — thousands of human bones had to be removed when the foundations were excavated.
“It’s a reminder some things are bigger than football,” he said. “It’s a good perspective for us all.”