London (AFP) – England manager Gareth Southgate believes facing Hungary in front of a 60,000 crowd in Budapest on Thursday will test if the Three Lions have recovered from the disappointment of losing the Euro 2020 final.
Southgate’s side missed out on England’s first major tournament win for 55 years on a penalty shootout to Italy in July.
They return to action for the first time this week with the trip to Budapest followed by clashes with Andorra and Poland in World Cup qualifying.
“The team has gained confidence from what they achieved and the progress they’ve made, not only this summer, but over the last four years,” said Southgate, who also led England to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018.
“Equally we have to start again. The journey to having the chance of another run like that in a tournament is under way. We have got to be at our very best.
“Mentally it’s a good test for us. Away from home, 60,000 fans and a very good team we’re playing against.”
England are already on course for a place in Qatar after winning their opening three qualifiers in March.
Victory in Hungary and Poland will all but secure qualification, but Southgate is wary of a Hungary side that held by France and Germany at the Euro.
“I think the two away games this week are both going to be hugely challenging,” he added.
“They’re good teams. They’re obviously pivotal games in terms of qualification.
“You can’t predict what your hardest games are going to be, but we know that Hungary are a very good side and sit second in the group.”
The Hungarian FA is facing UEFA sanctions for alleged racist and homophobic chanting by fans during matches in Budapest at the Euro.
England’s European Championship qualifier in Bulgaria in October 2019 was twice stopped due to racist chanting.
But after his players faced racist abuse online from accounts based in England after the defeat to Italy, Southgate refused to be drawn on what action his players would take if they are abused again.
“We always prepare the team for everything,” said Southgate.
“We’ve done that this week, but we know we’ve had our own issues at home, so we’re not really focusing on other countries, we’re focusing on ourselves and making sure we get our own things correct.
“I don’t think we should speak hypothetically. We know the experience we had before (in Bulgaria), but we’re going to Hungary preparing for a game against a crowd that will get behind their team and we’re looking forward to the challenge of the match. Everything else is speculation.”