Gareth Southgate underlined England’s aim to be the best by hunting down the likes of Belgium as they approach Sunday’s must-win Nations League match at the world’s top-ranked side.

Having reached the inaugural finals of the competition in Portugal last year, the Three Lions are on course to fall just short of the second edition following October’s shock 1-0 home loss to Denmark.

That defeat was a gut punch just days after securing an impressive 2-1 comeback win against Belgium, where England travel on Sunday needing to win to keep their hopes of topping Group A2 alive.

Southgate’s side face a difficult task in Leuven but the Three Lions boss is confident that his absentee-hit squad can hurt the Red Devils for the second time in a month.

Asked how tall an order it will be to win in Belgium, the England manager said: “Well, I think we know – they’ve lost two games in 28, so they’re a fantastic team and they’ve proven that over a long period of time.

“But our aim is to be the best team in the world and we’ve got to hunt these teams down.

“We were able to do it at Wembley. I think we saw what a top side they are there, so we know that we had to be at our very best with and without the ball to get that result.

“That will be the same tomorrow but we’re not fearful. We’ve got to go into the game with a very positive mindset.

“We know that we can hurt teams, we’ve got players who can score goals, and we know we’ve conceded two in our last nine games so we’re an improving team.

“We’re a team that are going to get better over the next few years.

“You know, when you look at the age of youngsters like Declan (Rice) and the team that was on the pitch the other night (against the Republic of Ireland) – 19-year-olds, 17-year-olds, several 20, 21-year-olds.

“The future is so exciting. What we’ve got to do is make sure we’re getting results and progressing now as well.”

England, who are fourth in FIFA’s world rankings, would have had their work cut out against Roberto Martinez’s star-studded side even without the key absentees they are dealing with in defence.

Harry Maguire serves a one-match ban on Sunday, while Joe Gomez suffered a knee injury in training and Conor Coady had to leave the camp after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19.

“We can do any tactical formation but the reality is we’ve still lost three defenders for this game so however we do it, we’re having to readjust,” Southgate said. “But, to be honest, we are having to do that all the time.

“It says something when one of the biggest enjoyments of the week was hearing there were no positive tests this morning – that’s about as much enjoyment as we get, so that we know at least we’ve got everybody available on that score!

“All teams are having to make adjustments, all teams are having to adapt. We’ve got good players. We’ve got a good squad, we believe in everybody.

“Over the last couple of months we’ve been able to give everybody minutes on the pitch, and that’s what you’ve got to build.

“You’ve got to build a strong squad because heading towards next summer we just don’t know who will be available, who will be in form and who will warrant those places in the team.”

Maguire skippered England to a 3-0 victory against Ireland and the suspended defender will travel with the squad to Belgium, where Harry Kane will wear the captain’s armband once again.

The 27-year-old was rested for Thursday’s friendly in order to keep him fresh for Sunday, when the free-scoring Tottenham striker will make his 50th appearance for the Three Lions and look to add to his 32-goal haul.

“In terms of what’s possible, I think the goalscoring record is the really interesting one because his strike rate for us is quite phenomenal,” Southgate said, referring to Wayne Rooney’s 53-goal tally.

“He’s obviously got time on his side to crack on and chase Wayne’s record, which would be a remarkable feat in itself.

“When you look at Sir Bobby (Charlton), Gary Lineker, Wayne and if Harry can get into that sort of list, then it’s a fantastic personal achievement.

“But I know from his perspective whilst the personal achievement is something he’s driven towards, he’s all about the team winning now.

“He’s been to a World Cup, won the Golden Boot, but in the end you want to win as a team and he’s totally focused on that and the team having success.

“He would want in the next few years to be able to look back on the team having achieved, as well as getting some of those personal milestones.”


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