Tuesday 28 January 2020

We will only get better - Southgate

New era: England manager Gareth Southgate got his team to the semi-finals
New era: England manager Gareth Southgate got his team to the semi-finals

Independent.ie Sportsdesk

Gareth Southgate believes England overachieved at the World Cup and are "nowhere near" their peak following defeat to Belgium in the third-place play-off.

The manager feels his players showed plenty of positive signs in Russia and expects his team to improve significantly.

"We were competitive in every game. We've overcome a lot of landmarks that we needed to," said Southgate. "To finish in the top four is probably above where we are currently. Huge credit to the players because they deserve every bit of praise that they get when they go back. You look at the number of caps the Belgium players have and at the age of the squad; they're at their peak, this was really their big tournament. We're nowhere near our peak yet, we've know that right the way through."

England were second best for most of the game and Southgate admitted the better team won. He said Belgium may still have regrets over their semi-final loss to France.

"I think they're a better side than us. We've had a day less to prepare and recover and I think it was just a game too far for us," he said. "They are a top team and great credit to them, they'll probably be thinking they should have gone further than they did. Our players have given absolutely everything right the way to the final whistle."

England captain Harry Kane failed to score for the third successive game but looks set to win the golden boot having hit six goals earlier in the tournament. The Tottenham striker challenged his team-mates to repeat their form in future competitions.

"The lads couldn't have given any more; Belgium are a good team," said the 24-year-old. "We've closed it [the gap to the top teams] but today shows there's still room for improvement. We're not the finished article yet, we're still learning, we're still getting better. This is the level we've got to try and stay at now."

Belgium's victory means they recorded their best finish at a World Cup, bettering fourth place at Mexico '86.

Manager Roberto Martinez said his talented group of individuals had proved they could play as a team. "It's all about that achievement [finishing third], these players deserve that," he said.

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