Gareth Southgate praised his young side’s bravery and urged them to use their startling 3-2 victory against Spain as a reference point for future progress as England kept alive their hopes of claiming their Nations League group.
The Spanish were beaten at home for the first time in more than 15 years in a competitive fixture, a sequence stretching back 38 games, after England’s youngest starting lineup since 1959 swept into an eye-catching first‑half lead, sparked by Raheem Sterling’s first goals at this level in over three years. The World Cup semi‑finalists clung on thereafter to register their first win against recognised elite opponents under the manager’s tenure.
“The World Cup was a brilliant experience for us but we had to show signs we could step forward,” Southgate said. “With a win against Spain and a draw against Croatia, we have shown we’ve made progress. It’s a big step. We had a lot of young players out there, and for a team to play the way we did was a great reference point for the future. It’s important these youngsters enjoy playing for England and feel the way we want to play, and they should be able to progress from this.
“The quality of the performance was great. We played with huge courage. We used the ball with courage. We knew that, to come here and defend for 90 minutes, we were unlikely to get a result. So we needed to be brave with the ball. We talked about the threat our front three have but they needed to believe in themselves and we needed to get the ball to them. OK, we ran the risk of losing the ball near our goal when we played passes out of their press, but once we were out we were a huge threat on the counterattack. The quality and bravery of the play were wonderful.”
Sterling’s goals followed 27 scoreless caps, with the Manchester City forward doubling his overall tally for the national team with those first-half rewards. “We went at them straight from the beginning and we were clinical,” he said. “It was a beautiful feeling to score. I put pressure on myself – it’s my position to score goals – so it meant a lot to me.
“As a forward you go through patches but I am forgetting about looking nice and concentrating on getting in behind and causing havoc. The celebrations when it went in... that was frustration, all the pressure, coming out. There is nothing better than scoring in an England shirt.”
Southgate said: “I’m delighted for Raheem. I don’t think he ever lacked confidence but, sometimes, you get chances and you’re thinking too much. Tonight he was prepared to hit things early. His general game was good. He took up some really dangerous pockets of play, turned and ran at the defence. He and Marcus [Rashford] were diligent with their defending too. We had to do more than our share and being compact without the ball was critical.
“All three of our front three have understandably had questions asked of them, and all three responded with really top performances. We were able to play off them. They retained the ball well for us and allowed us to build. Their speed was an obvious threat but the quality of their passes and finishing was top quality.
“This is a great reference for the young players. You need wins and positive experiences to give you confidence for the future. This helps with the ability to be able to talk to other players who come into the squad. We won’t get carried away. We know there’s lots to work on and we conceded two really poor goals but I think it will give them huge belief.”