Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane vowed to bounce back from England’s shock defeat to the Czech Republic by getting their Euro 2020 qualification campaign back on track in Bulgaria.
After 43 unbeaten matches stretching across a 10-year period, the Three Lions finally lost a European or World Cup qualifier as the Czechs capitalised on the visitors’ surprisingly lacklustre performance in Prague.
Ponderous in possession, poor at the back and toothless in attack, England missed the chance to seal qualification in the Czech Republic – and can only do so on Monday if they beat Bulgaria and Kosovo fail to win their match.
Southgate could not hide his disappointment after Friday’s loss, nor could he on the eve of the Group A encounter in Sofia.
“I think we have a very honest group,” the England boss said. “They are very self-reflective.
“They know, they don’t need me to tell them when they haven’t played at the level they can.
“The key is always, OK, we have to recover quickly from the result. There’s no point us moping around and feeling sorry for ourselves.
“We all are responsible for the result.
“I am the manager, I take the ultimate responsibility and then we have to move forward and be prepared for the game tomorrow.
“Slightly different sort of test but, yeah, it’s a sort of different challenge for everybody because this young team hasn’t really experienced a night like that, where we’ve had a performance and a result that was unexpected.
“I don’t think defeats harm teams. If the reaction is good, then what you learn from defeats, what you gain in resilience from defeats, are an important part of a player’s career and a person’s life.
“Maybe we were all focusing a lot on next summer, talking a lot about next summer, answering questions about a home tournament and I’ve always maintained that the first thing is we have to qualify.
“We haven’t secured that qualification yet, so our focus tomorrow is to get the performance and the result that we need.”
Kane echoed his manager’s sentiments at Natsionalen Stadion Vasil Levski, having called the loss to the Czechs a “wake-up call” immediately after the game.
“Yeah, obviously it was a disappointing performance,” the England captain said. “We know that.
“We have had a lot of praise over the last two or three years and it is the first time we haven’t performed at a high level in a game we were expected to win.
“We definitely know there is stuff to improve on. It’s important to keep the energy high, spirits high because we have another game tomorrow night.
“If we win, we’re still in a fantastic position going into the last two games, so for sure, as players, you always reflect on your own performance, and the team performance: how can I do better, how can I help my team?
“And I think we’ve all done that, and the only way to show that is going out there tomorrow and putting in a good performance.”
England will be hoping that concerns over possible racism do not become reality in Sofia, where Danny Rose will be replaced by Ben Chilwell with the Tottenham left-back suspended.
Attention will be on the Three Lions’ defence, which looked shaky when shipping five goals in their last two matches, leading Southgate to ponder a return to a back three.
“I think that we’re always looking at every aspect of the game,” the former England defender said.
“We train specifically and have meetings specifically about every area of the performance, so of course there’s always additional focus when things in a certain area of the game aren’t going so well.
“In terms of tactical adjustments, we’re always thinking about what’s the best way to play to get the best players on the field – to be the most dangerous, to get the best out of our strengths, but hide our weaknesses.
“We’ve always done that over three years, so we’ve tried various formations.
“We tried something in the first half the other night (by going to a 4-2-3-1). In hindsight, because of the result and the performance that didn’t work but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right decision to have a go at it.
“If we don’t ever think about evolving and trying those things, then we’ll never progress as a team.
“We will always continue to make those assessments and the priority is to give a good performance.”