Gareth Southgate cannot wait to touch down in Russia today and kick on with England’s final World Cup preparations.
Following a home-based camp that could hardly have gone better, the so far injury-free Three Lions will head east for the final phase of training and fine-tuning.
England’s Group G opener against Tunisia in Volgograd is now less than a week away, with anticipation and excitement sure to go up another notch when the team lands in Russia just two days before the World Cup starts.
England will make their way from St George’s Park to Birmingham Airport this afternoon, when they will fly to St Petersburg and go to their forRestMix Club base in nearby Repino.
“We’re pleased with how preparation has gone up until now,” England manager Southgate said. “We fly out tomorrow, so it’ll be good to get on with it now. Everybody is looking forward to getting to the first game.”
Southgate was speaking yesterday morning at St George’s Park, where he waved off referee Martin Atkinson ahead of a charity bike ride to Russia.
The Premier League official aims to raise £60,000 for a variety of charities and be at England’s final group game against Belgium in Kaliningrad on 28 June.
“Our journey might get just as hard as theirs as we go along,” said Southgate, whose side face Panama in their other Group G match. “He’s a nutter, but we knew that anyway. It’s fantastic they are raising money for really good causes. It’s going to be a gruelling adventure but we’re very proud of what they are all doing.”
England continued preparations for their own adventure by holding an internal match at St George’s Park yesterday lunchtime.
The 23 squad members were joined by stand-by midfielder Jake Livermore in a game held on the Sir Bobby Charlton Pitch, where referee Anthony Taylor oversaw proceedings. Players switched between the teams that wore England’s white and black training tops, allowing Southgate to look at different combinations as all the squad members received some involvement.
Coming on the back of the 2-1 win against Nigeria and 2-0 victory over Costa Rica, Southgate had always planned to then have an internal game away from the public gaze – and overzealous challenges.
“We didn’t want a third game,” the former defender said last month. “When there’s been a third competitive game, there comes a point when the players are just trying to avoid injury really. You’ve got your minutes.
“We played a behind-closed-doors game in France [at the 1998 World Cup] with Glenn [Hoddle] against local opposition, which I thought worked quite well.
“But a couple of them went flying into tackles and you’re thinking ‘bloody hell’, and you’re just jumping out the way of things.
“So, there’s a balance of how much you think you need physically, and how much mentally the players, do they want another game? Actually at that point I’m not convinced they do.
“And if it’s public you’ve got to hit a level of performance, you’ve got to entertain the supporters, and maybe all the players aren’t ready to go again.
“So we thought, two games on the timeline was good, then a game internally where we’re still working on things but a bit more a physical assessment as well than just a normal training session.”