England manager Gareth Southgate pointed to Germany’s shock World Cup elimination as a warning that every nation is vulnerable at Russia 2018.
World champions Germany finished bottom of Group E following their 2-0 defeat against South Korea on Wednesday, ruling out the prospect of a potential quarterfinal clash with England in Kazan, while Argentina required an 86th minute winner against Nigeria on Tuesday to avoid being knocked out.
England face Belgium in Kaliningrad on Thursday with both teams having already secured a place in the round of 16, but Southgate admits that Germany’s fate is a timely reminder of what can happen if anything is taken for granted.
“There really is no opportunity to rest on where you are as a team or stop the constant improvement,” he told a news conference. “We’ve learned an enormous amount from studying Germany as a team, last summer [at the Confederations Cup] not least, and implemented that.
“Indirectly, they’ve had a big bearing on what we’re doing now, but in sport and in life you have to keep evolving. It just shows anyone is vulnerable on any given day.
“Italy and Holland were out of the World Cup before we got to this point. Chile, in the Confederations Cup final last year, didn’t qualify for Russia, and now Germany. I’m surprised. It’s unusual to see Germany struggle as much as they have, but the level of all the teams is strong.
“You just can’t take anything for granted. The margins are so fine within the matches. We were watching Argentina last night, Portugal and Spain the evening before, and one decision at one end of the pitch, and a decision within two minutes… the situation in the group changed completely.
“That’s what is brilliant about tournaments. You don’t know what will happen and now, not all the top teams have got through. That’s what attracts everyone to World Cups and European Championships. The thrill to be a part of it is fantastic.”
The only issue at stake for England against Belgium is whether they finish first or second in Group G. Finishing as runners-up arguably opens up a clearer path to the final — missing France/Argentina and Portugal — but with England currently ahead of the Belgians on goal difference, Southgate insists his players will simply go out and try to win the game.
“We think that we need to keep winning football matches,” he said. “We want to breed a mentality that everyone in our squad wants to constantly win. We’ve not won a knockout game since 2006, so why we are starting to plot which would be a better venue for our semifinal is beyond me, really.
“We have no idea who, when or where we will play in the next round, but we’re pleased we’re in the next round. We’re building a team that everyone back home can see are passionate to play for England, want to win every time they go out, and are improving every time. I’m looking forward to seeing us play again.”