Gareth Southgate says England must win the World Cup to banish the memory of their Euro 2020 final loss.
England came agonisingly close to winning their first major trophy since the 1996 World Cup at this summer’s European Championships, making it all the way to the showpiece at Wembley only to suffer a penalty shoot-out defeat.
Southgate says the best way for the Three Lions to put that disappointment behind them is to pull together and focus on qualifying for Qatar 2022, with their next Group I clash against Hungary at Puskas Arena on Thursday night.
“We probably need to win a World Cup final,” the England boss told his pre-match press conference. “Nothing else is really going to compare to the level of the game we were involved in, and the unique circumstance that being involved in a final brings.
“We had two years of having to reflect on a World Cup semi-final, and whatever we do in the next 18 months has got to be towards leading us towards challenging in a World Cup.”
Three Lions defender Harry Maguire echoed his manager, conceding the pain of the loss to Italy is still fresh in the minds of both the players and supporters.
“It hurts, and it always will hurt,” he said. “Will you ever get over losing a penalty shoot-out to become European champions? Probably only if you win one of these major tournaments will you overcome that. Of course, it hurts, and it probably hurts every fan as well, not just us players and staff. It will hurt everyone.”
England are sitting top of Group I on nine points after their first three fixtures, having beaten San Marino and Albania 5-0 and 2-0 respectively before picking up a hard-fought 2-1 win against Poland earlier this year.
Southgate’s side can move five points clear of second-placed Hungary if they win tonight’s game before their focus switches to a home fixture against Andorra on Sunday.
The Three Lions wrap up their latest set of qualifiers with a trip to Poland on September 8, and if they pick up maximum points, their place in the 2022 World Cup will be all but confirmed.