• By Yann Tear

Southgate says fans are playing a big part in England's rise among the elite


Gareth Southgate says the growing bond between players and fans is playing a huge role in England’s impressive progress under his leadership.

Where apathy towards the national team reigned, not so long ago, there is now admiration and backing from the stands for a young side that continues to build on the summer of love in Russia.

Sunday afternoon’s superb 2-1 victory over Wembley gave England some measure of revenge for the semi-final defeat in Moscow by the same side, but also ensured Southgate’s men will contest the first ever Nations League finals next summer in Portugal.

And considering Spain have also been overcome in the toughest of groups, it caps an excellent year for the Three Lions.

“The most pleasing thing of all for me is the connection with the fans, because I’ve not heard Wembley like that for years,” Southgate said after the win that was secured thanks to two late goals.

"That atmosphere today was fantastic and if Wembley can be like that over the next couple of years, we're going to have some significant games here that our fans are going to play as huge part in us winning, as the quality of the team.

“We’ve given our supporters some really memorable days and nights this year and we want to continue that and build on that, because the energy that came back to the team in those difficult moments helped us get over the line today.

“You could look at the group with France, Germany and Holland, but I think ours, on form, has been the toughest group to come through, so that’s a significant step for us.

“The quality of the performances and the depth of the squad has emerged. We had real options on the bench today to be able to change the game and that’s a big shift.”

Southgate believes the team are being rewarded for maintaining high standards – both in terms of work ethic and tactical application.

“The tone was set by the game the other night [against USA],” he said. “The players that came in played at a very high level.

“You can only have that consistency if you work at things and you are really clear on how you want to play. We know where we sit. We are not perfect, but we are improving – and we’ve got a real desire and hunger within the group to keep improving.

“Slowly, we’re starting to beat those top teams now. We’ve had an unprecedented run of fixtures, which has been tough, but we’ve learnt so much from it because you’ve got to be near-on perfect in those games against the best teams. It doesn’t allow you to be sloppy in any way. All those factors are helping us to progress.”

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