Gareth Southgate believes England reinforced their position as an emerging international force in last night’s goalless draw in Croatia.
In front of an empty stadium, England squandered a number of clear openings to miss the opportunity to notch their first UEFA Nations League win.
And Southgate – who backed Harry Kane despite his six game goal drought – praised his players’ powers of adaptability as they overcame the unusual circumstance of playing in front of an entirely empty stadium – though a handful of England fans were able to catch the game standing on a nearby hill.
Gareth Southgate was happy with England’s performance despite failing to win in Croatia
‘They’re hugely proud to play in the shirt. We talked just before the game (about the empty stadium),’ said Southgate.
‘But good teams adapt. Good teams, whatever the circumstances or the atmosphere or the pitch, find a way of playing. I was pleased the players did that tonight.
‘I think the application of the players was superb. There was no let up in their work ethic throughout the game. Defensively they were really strong, showed good enthusiasm to play, and our performance was really good.’
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As revealed by Sportsmail, Southgate played with a four-man defence in Rijeka having utilised a back-five for over 12 months.
And Southgate explained one of the key reasons behind his shift in tactics is because he feels his team are no longer vulnerable as they once were.
‘The three at the back, the 3-5-2, allowed some players to bed into international football. People like Harry Maguire, going into the World Cup, I felt we needed a bit more protection for the defence and the opportunity to get two forwards in the game.
‘Now the players are more established and look comfortable. I don’t think you should ever be rigid and stick to a formations and say that is it, I wanted to look at a back four as without the ball we have suffered a little bit because of the shape and I look at the young players coming through, then there is wide players and number eights who might suit that system.
Harry Maguire was part of a new defence as Southgate ditched his three-at-the-back system
‘We have got to keep learning it but I thought the team executed it really well.’ Southgate also backed captain Harry Kane, who has now gone six games without an international goal.
The England boss said: ‘Harry will get us goals. We were a real threat. The most important thing for the team is we create chances, look dangerous, and the players who didn’t score tonight will score.’
After the game, a number of England players spoke of the strange atmosphere in the empty stadium.
‘It was strange, the first experience of it for all of us, we saw couple of fans got up on the hill but once the game started it was in the back of our minds,’ said Eric Dier ‘We could easily hear the ones on the hill, they were the only ones here.’
Kane said: ‘It was a strange one, we’re not using to playing with no fans, it’s hard without the atmosphere.’
Harry Kane has now gone six international games without a goal but was backed by his boss