England broke with tradition on Tuesday evening to seal progress from the last 16 at the expense of Colombia on penalties after a hard-fought 1-1 draw over 120 minutes was followed by a remarkable shootout triumph.
Eric Dier hammered home his attempt to wrap up a 4-3 victory after goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saved Carlos Bacca’s spot-kick as the new generation overcame what has long been an English hoodoo.
A mouth-watering quarter-final against Sweden now awaits in Samara on Saturday afternoon – an occasion Southgate is not taking for granted but believes could become an increasingly regular occurrence given England’s talent.
“I think in terms of what they are capable of over the next few years, they are going to get better,” the manager said.
“In this tournament we now have to assess all the injuries and see where we are.
“For sure, going to extra-time I’m pleased we did what we did in the Belgium game [by resting the bulk of his team] even more because I think it’s an accumulation of fatigue making things more difficult.
“But now we have a chance to reassess and it will be a tough game for sure.
“Because Sweden are often underestimated and I have real respect for Sweden. They are always more than the sum of their parts. Our historic record against them is another one we have to put right.
“But I think we have always viewed them at our level and I don’t think that’s right because their tournament record is better than ours.”
England’s chances against Sweden could be made all the tougher by injuries, with Southgate joking the dressing room was “like a scene from M*A*S*H*”.
Jamie Vardy is a doubt with a groin strain that it is understood led the striker to have an injection after the match, while Dele Alli, Kyle Walker and Ashley Young also need checking.
“I think he’s fine,” Southgate said of Alli. “We felt it was probably a good time to try solidify a little bit and with hindsight it was probably a good thing that he didn’t go to extra-time because that would have put him at a bit more risk. So, hopefully he’s come through it OK.
“We have got to check a couple. I think Kyle’s is cramp. We’ve got to check Ashley’s, which is more of an ankle. Vardy feels a bit with his groin.
“You never know with cramp whether that is just cramp or something a little bit more.
“But that will take a good 36 hours. We are probably a little bit behind on our prep but we will judge that.”
Fabian Delph’s return to the group after the birth of his daughter looks a timely boost at a time when England, the top seeds in their half of the draw, can ill afford complacency to seep in.
“I think that was the concern, looking too far ahead,” Southgate said when it came to concerns about going home rather than looking at permutations and possibilities.
“I think after the game we are allowed to enjoy and we must. But then we are very much one game at a time. We know the size of the task and we know the difficulty of this task.
“Every other team in our half of the draw will be thinking exactly the same as us.
“There are some really good players and some really good teams. So we enjoy but then we go again.”
Preparation has been key for England at this World Cup, having not only flourished from set-pieces but time spent strategising for shootouts.
“I think it’s an important moment for everybody in our country really,” Southgate said after the penalty win.
“You know you are standing there and if we don’t get through from a game we played so well in, you know you will continue the history and mindset for teams to come.
“So it’s a huge moment for these players, but also the next generations to come as well.”
Of course, when Jordan Henderson missed England’s third penalty of the shootout it looked very much as though England’s penalty misery would continue.
Henderson admits he will owe fellow Sunderland boy Jordan Pickford for the rest of his life after the keeper’s one-handed save from Bacca paved the way for victory.
Henderson and Pickford were born just a few miles apart and though they never crossed paths in the Sunderland first team and now reside on opposite sides of the Mersey divide, they will forever be linked by events in Moscow.
“I thanked him, I can’t thank him enough, I’m forever in his debt. He says the Mackems stick together!” revealed Henderson, who had seen his cleanly-struck effort palmed away by David Ospina. “You obviously fear the worst when you miss the penalty but Pickers has done brilliantly with the save. We’re a really close group, I think you can see that.
“It’s difficult when you miss and nothing can be said that’s going to make it alright but it’s not about me, it doesn’t really matter now, we won and that’s the main thing.”
Pickford was simply pleased for the chance to bail Henderson, and the team, out of a hole.
“He said to me ‘well done you fellow Mackem’. I said ‘Jesus, I’ve helped you out there lad’,” the Everton keeper added. “That’s team-mates isn’t it? A bit of craic. We’re together, when one goes down we’ve got to pick them back up.”
Henderson says he’s willing to take another penalty – if he’s allowed. “It wouldn’t put me off but it might put Gareth off! I’d take another one but obviously it’s down to the manager and I would understand if he chose someone else,” he added.