Gareth Southgate still sees room for improvement for England but described the hard-fought Nations League win over Belgium as a “big moment” for his players.
Mason Mount’s deflected strike earned England a 2-1 triumph at Wembley over opponents who had not previously suffered defeat since November 2018.
The two teams had traded penalties in a first half that saw Belgium largely on top, yet England improved after the break to make it 20 victories in their last 21 competitive home matches.
While remaining grounded after beating a team sitting top of the FIFA rankings, Southgate was delighted with how the hosts performed, particularly from a defensive standpoint.
“We’ve got loads that we can get better at. We are not carried away by this win, we’ve got to back it up against Denmark, first and foremost,” he told Sky Sports.
“We know the quality of the opponent today is the level we have got to aspire to on a consistent basis.
“There will be fewer chances in these games, they are games of concentration, games of detail. For our guys to come through that is a big moment for us.
“We can be a free-flowing, free-scoring team, but against the very best, the detail of how you defend as a team has to be absolutely bang on. In the second half we got that right. In the first half we struggled with their quality and movement.”
2 – @England have scored at least twice in their last eight International matches on home soil, the Three Lions’ longest such streak since September 2010 (18 in a row). Dipped. #ENGBEL pic.twitter.com/Sk4oECq5Jm
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 11, 2020
Southgate pinpointed how many problems Belgium posed, particularly in an opening half that saw Romelu Lukaku open the scoring from the spot before Marcus Rashford levelled.
However, the England boss feels the experience will be a long-term benefit to some of his younger, less-experienced internationals when it comes to their development.
“They are a top side, an absolute top side. We knew some of the questions they would ask us, down the sides of our defensive block, but to answer those questions is more difficult,” he said.
“The timing of their runs and overloading us in wide areas, there is so much decision making for our players, defensively, to make. For sure, they caused us problems with that – and we didn’t retain the ball well enough in our build-up.
“We were a bit slow to move the ball up the pitch, we didn’t ask enough questions over stretching them, which would have allowed us to drop players lower as well.
“But it was a top-level game and we had a lot of young players there – [Declan] Rice, Mount, Trent [Alexander-Arnold] – for whom that was a really great experience.
“You don’t come into these games and play their sort of quality, their level of team, without having to deal with those problems. We had to see that spell through, and what pleased me was that we had the resilience to do so.”
Southgate also singled out Kieran Trippier, lining up on the left side of the defence, for special praise, adding: “He was like a soldier out there – an unbelievable defensive performance.”