Gareth Southgate was pleased with his “hungry” looking England side in the 5-0 win over San Marino, claiming in the past players had looked “stodgy” in such fixtures.
Ollie Watkins scored on his international debut and Dominic Calvert-Lewin struck twice as England kicked off their qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with a comfortable win over FIFA’s lowest-ranked side.
England posted 20 shots on the San Marino goal in the first half with Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount looking particularly sharp before they were withdrawn at the break with games against Albania and Poland in mind.
“The whole team were hungry to play,” Southgate said.
“Sometimes these games have been stodgy for us in the past but this team can play slightly differently, we have some creative players who can open teams up. A lot of those chances were created by the good pressing and winning the ball high up the pitch. But also some of the interchange of position and the vision of players. If we were to be ultra-critical, we probably should have scored more but we also have to say their goalkeeper had an absolutely fantastic game.
“I was very pleased because the behaviours and habits we showed, to be a top team we have to show those every day, in every training session, and every match and today we respected the game and went about it the right way.”
Ahead of the match, Southgate had suggested he already knows his starting XI for the European Championship opener against Croatia on June 14.
But the England boss was keen to clarify his comments in the press conference, making the point that players still have time to impress him with plenty of football to be played between now and June.
“I was asked if the game was tomorrow would I know my best team, and the answer to that would be yes,” he said.
“But every game we play, every opportunity to play with clubs, people have the chance to show good form, good level of quality and the opportunity to change that thinking. It would be foolish to pin ourselves to something now when everything is so fluid and things change so quickly.
“We’ve got lots of really good competition for places and yes there are a couple of different ways we can play, and that flexibility will be important, but the most pleasing thing is the depth.
“When we have youngsters like Jude [Bellingham] coming on and playing with the type of confidence he did and then to see Ollie [Watkins] come on and get his goal… I think the reaction to his goal in particular told you a lot about this team and this squad. They were so pleased for him. I think they make it easier for young players and new players to come in and be themselves and bed in. I really liked the reaction of the team to his goal.”
Southgate also commented on England’s World Cup Qualifier in Albania on Sunday that will go ahead after a policing scare in the country threatened to call off the fixture in Tirana.
The Albanian Football Federation (FSHF) warned the game’s cancellation “would have catastrophic consequences for the image of our country” after receiving a letter from local police stating measures before, during and after could not be guaranteed.
However, Albania State Police have since assured that they will guarantee public order and safety for the game following a meeting with the FSHF on Thursday.
“I didn’t think for one minute it would be in doubt,” Southgate said.
“We’re flooded by stories like that all the time about various issues and it’s very rare those things come to fruition. I’m told there’s no doubt about the game.”