England manager Gareth Southgate wants his players to embrace Russia’s “festival of football” as they prepare to start their 2018 World Cup campaign against Tunisia in Volgograd.
Southgate and his squad flew to Volgograd from their base at Repino on the Gulf of Finland after training on Sunday to finalise their plans for Monday’s Group G game.
And he hopes England fully engage with the showpiece unfolding across this huge country when they attempt to secure their first win in the opening game of a major tournament since Paraguay were beaten at the World Cup in Germany in 2006.
Southgate said: “When I have been at World Cups before, whether working with the media or following the games scouting, there is a kind of carnival of football out there that sometimes as a player you don’t access and don’t feel part of.
“We have got to feel that it is a festival of football that you are fully involved in, and look to play as well as we can.”
And he revealed his players were energised after gathering to watch the spectacular 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal that has been the early highlight of this World Cup.
“I think having watched the Spain v Portugal game, these are the sort of games that announce the tournament is under way,” he said. “The players enjoyed watching it and it brought energy to our hotel.”
Southgate and his trusted assistant Steve Holland have been preparing England’s players for the requirement to travel hard yards if they need to as they prepare for the searing heat of Volgograd.
He said: “I hope my own experiences are providing them with some context. I hope the messages we are giving them are developing a style of play they believe in and that they are building the strength of character to withstand some of the difficult moments we will definitely have to go through in a tournament.
“Our first objective is to qualify from the group and we have to be prepared for the fact that might happen smoothly or it might have to go into the 89th or 94th minute of the third game.
“For the first five minutes of the opening game anything can happen but it is not going to decide whether we go through in the group or not. We have got to be mentally strong enough not to get carried away if we start the game really well and also if we have a setback in the first five minutes of a game, an injury or something like that.
“That is the resilience you have got to have.”