Gareth Southgate has warned England they will be vulnerable to a shock if they lose the humility and work ethic that propelled them to a first final for 55 years as they prepare for the two crucial six-pointers on the road that should determine if they take the fast track to the World Cup.
England were runners-up in Euro 2020 but will lose the lead in Group I of World Cup qualifying if they are beaten in Budapest on Thursday and, as they begin a potentially defining week, Southgate has told his players they cannot get complacent because of their recent success.
After facing Hungary, England, who have a 100 per cent record in the pool, host Andorra before going to Poland next Wednesday in a period that could put them on course to reach Qatar next year or reduced to battling for a play-off place.
“The two away games this week are both going to be hugely challenging,” Southgate said. “They are two good teams and they are obviously pivotal games in terms of qualification. In these qualifiers, you have to be at your very best.
“It is an important opportunity for us. If you can take points off your nearest challengers in their own home, then it puts us in a really strong position and we would be in control of the group.
“We know that Hungary are a very good team. They sit second in the group, took a point off Poland in March and France and Germany in the summer so their recent results speak for themselves.”
England have qualified for every tournament since Euro 2008 and every World Cup since 1994 and were semi-finalists in 2018. They could be without Jadon Sancho, who has a “small knock” as Southgate told them to keep the principles that have stood them in good stead.
He added: “The team have gained confidence from what they have achieved and the progress they have made not only this summer but over the last four years but equally we have to start again.
“The journey to having the chance to have another run like that in a tournament is under way. We have to focus our minds on a different sort of challenge but I don’t expect that to be a problem.
“We have made progress because we've shown humility in the way we are prepared to work and the way we defend as a team.
“We've got players who can create chances, but everything starts from the work ethic. If you lose that as a team and don’t have that right, you're vulnerable. That is the start point for us. We've got to make sure we are back to where we were, not thinking that just because we got to a final, we can walk out and beat teams.
“We were at home in the summer, apart from one game in Rome, but that is the test as a top player. You have got to go into these stadiums with opposition fans and show the resilience and fortitude to be able to play.
“We have got to go away from home now, [in front of] 60,000 fans, and we have to become a team that in all those different environments that you encounter, we have to be able to pick results up. Going away from home for a qualifier is different to playing in a tournament and we have to embrace those challenges. The skill set required as a team is very different.”