ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) - England could finish third in the World Cup with a victory over Belgium in Saturday’s playoff but manager Gareth Southgate believes they are not yet amongst the elite teams in international football.
England are currently ranked joint 12th in the official FIFA rankings alongside Denmark but their run in Russia should see that position improve.
“I expect we’ll be back in the top ten when the rankings come out. That’s probably where we are,” Southgate told a news conference on Friday.”
“We’re a bit outside the top five but competitive against those teams,” he added.
Germany, Brazil, Belgium, Portugal and Argentina currently occupy the top five slots in the rankings but Southgate said that the pressure is now on England to rise up to the very top.
“We’re here to try and improve every time we play, every time we go into a tournament. There were low expectations this time which relieved the pressure, but there was still pressure to get out of the group, win a knockout game, win a penalty shootout,” he said.
“They coped brilliantly with that. You have to cope with expectation if you want to play for England. We’ve raised expectation because we’ve also raised belief. The players can associate playing with England with enjoyment, fun and not being under siege and feeling everything is against them.
“There’s an energy and a connection back. That’s important in the short, mid and long term as well.”
Asked whether he feared that this run to the last four in Russia could turn out to be the peak for his team, Southgate said: “None of us know if that’s as good as it gets. What our aim is, is to build with a system now through the development teams.
“We’ve had a lot of success at junior level, now with the seniors. We want to be challenging for semi-finals and finals. If you’re there, then the chances of success are high.”
The Football Association has decided against holding a public parade of the team, despite the fact that a semi-final run was rewarded with such a welcome in 1990 and Southgate said he backed that decision.
“It’s not actually my decision, but I agree with it. If we make the final, that’s different.
“The support we’ve had from home is immense. To have been able to make a difference is something that will live with us all forever. The country has united behind football. That’s maybe more important than the performances in some respects,” he said.
But Southgate, who has been sensitive to ensuring the England team have a connection with fans in all regions of the country, suggested it wouldn’t have been right to have a parade in just one city.
“If we had a parade, that would have been one part of the country. We represent the whole country,” he said.
“We’re proud and we hope that, come our matches in September, that warm feeling about international football will be there again. We’re very proud, but we haven’t won in the end. There is a balance to all of that.”
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Christian Radnedge