England have long way to go: Southgate

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LONDON — England manager Gareth Southgate conceded his team were a “work in progress” after they qualified for next year’s football World Cup with a desperately laboured 1-0 victory over Slovenia on Thursday.

England’s fans had long given up on Thursday’s game at Wembley and were entertaining themselves by launching paper aeroplanes towards the pitch by the time Harry Kane (pictured) stabbed in a predatory 94th-minute winner.

But with two 23-year-olds, 22-year-old Raheem Sterling and 19-year-old Marcus Rashford in his starting XI, Southgate believes it is unrealistic to expect England to play like world-beaters at this stage of their development.

“What the team have been through over 18 months and as a young team what they’re having to deal with in terms of expectation and criticism of their performances, it’s tough for them,” Southgate said.

“They’re young players that we have to try and get behind. They’re giving absolutely everything they’ve got. They don’t have Champions League or league championship winning medals throughout this group. They’re a work in progress. But they will give everything they’ve got for the shirt and they are going to improve over the next few years.

“They’re suffering the consequences of 25 years, 30 years, 40 years (of underachievement). That isn’t their fault. We have to give them the belief and the backing to go and achieve.”

Immediately after the game, the Football Association announced England will play friendlies against Brazil and world champions Germany at Wembley in November.

Their next task is a trip to Lithuania for their final Group F game on Sunday and although it is now a dead rubber, Southgate said he will not release any players from his squad.

“We have to assess where we are injury-wise, but I won’t be releasing players,” he told his post-match press conference.

“We’re a squad. We stay together as a squad. Maybe at some point tonight we might enjoy the fact we’re at the World Cup, although that might take a few minutes.

“But there will be England supporters going to Lithuania and we have a duty to put in a performance. We want to stay unbeaten and win the game.

“There are one or two players we’re definitely going to have a look at and it’s one of few games we have now to build towards the World Cup.” — AFP