Gareth Southgate suggested that England’s Euro 2020 hopes had suffered a wake-up call after they were beaten 2-1 by the Czech Republic – the nation’s first defeat in 44 World Cup and European Championship qualifiers; a run that stretches back 10 years.
The result dented England’s pristine record en route to the finals next summer but more worryingly, as Southgate admitted, it raised a slew of questions. The team were poor with and without the ball, while defensive frailties remain a concern. England now travel to Sofia where they will face Bulgaria on Monday.
“We’ve had a lot of plaudits but we’ve always maintained that there’s a lot of work to be done to be a really top team,” Southgate said. “I think tonight was clear evidence of that. We’ve got to get a response and it’s going to be an interesting couple of days for all of us because we haven’t had a result like that, we haven’t had a performance like that and we’ll learn a lot more about ourselves over the next 48-72 hours. Football is all about responding to setbacks. We haven’t had too many so it feels even more unpleasant because it’s a while since we’ve felt this way. None of us like it but that’s the reality and to sail through a qualifying group with no issue is very unusual.”
Southgate came under fire for his tactical approach, with his starting 4-2-3-1 system – with Mason Mount as the No 10 – leading to a first-half in which the Czechs were the dominant force. He switched to 4-3-3 after the interval, when England did look more cohesive.
“I always have to accept responsibility,” Southgate said. “We didn’t look any more solid without the ball and we were poor at using the ball in the first half. I think we were better in the second half and we created chances to win the game. But we collectively have to accept the result and, as the manager, I’ve got to accept that as well, absolutely.”
Southgate was asked whether he attributed some of the defensive problems to the fact that John Stones was missing because of injury and Joe Gomez is not playing regularly at Liverpool. England looked vulnerable in central defence, where Michael Keane endured a tough night.
Southgate said he “totally understands the question” and added: “I think there are players who aren’t playing well for their clubs but that’s the situation we’re in at the moment, certainly in a couple of positions. We didn’t play well enough, simple as that. We conceded possession too cheaply and particularly in the first-half we didn’t create enough chances. Throughout the night, we were too open.”