Gareth Southgate says England’s label as ‘favourites’ means nothing as they prepare for their World Cup last-16 tie with Senegal.
The Three Lions meet African champions Senegal in their first knockout game in Qatar on Sunday at 19:00 GMT.
England qualified as Group B winners with a 3-0 win over Wales on Tuesday, while Senegal were second to the Netherlands in Group A.
“We will be considered favourites,” Southgate said.
“But that really doesn’t mean anything in a one-off game,” added the England boss.
“It doesn’t mean that there is no pressure for Senegal because every international team has great pressure in their own country and outside as well.”
The meeting at Al Bayt Stadium is the first between the two nations and the winner will face either France or defending champions Poland in the quarter-finals.
England ready to go the distance
While Senegal have only reached the knockout stage of a World Cup for the second time, England are trying to qualify for the last eight of consecutive tournaments for the first time since 2006, following their run to the semi-finals four years ago.
Southgate’s side were knocked out by a Croatia winner in extra time in Russia, before losing to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley last summer.
“We are two tournaments away from playing against Colombia at this stage in Moscow. I think our level of experience is better, our level of ambition is different,” Southgate told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“When we qualified after our group stage in Russia, we probably celebrated a bit. This time it was a great night for our fans and we enjoyed the win, but we were already thinking about the next game.
“We know the focus should be on this game, nothing else.”
Asked about the prospect of penalties, Southgate added: “We are aiming to win the game and avoid extra time and penalties but if we have to go 120 minutes or more we have to be ready for that mentally and physically and I believe that we are.”
“We have immense respect for Senegal”
Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations trophy for the first time in February when Aliou Cissé’s side beat Egypt in a penalty shootout.
The Teranga Lions were dealt a major blow ahead of the World Cup when star player Sadio Mane was ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury he suffered while playing for Bayern Munich less than two weeks before the his country’s opening game.
But victories over hosts Qatar and Ecuador, following a first loss to the Netherlands, saw them qualify for the knockout stage for the first time in 20 years.
“We were very impressed with Senegal,” Southgate said.
“They are African champions and are very proud and have a great spirit and confidence in their team. They have great individual players who can cause problems, but also a good structure.
“Cissé did a fantastic job. We know the magnitude of the work ahead of us.”
Senegalese coach Cisse was unable to attend his press conference on Saturday due to illness, raising doubts about his presence on the touchline.
“Important Maguire Felt the Love”
Southgate have so far seen their faith in Harry Maguire repaid by the Manchester United centre-back, despite his recent struggles at club level.
Partnering Manchester City defender John Stones at the heart of a four-man defence, England kept their clean sheets against the United States and Wales after a 6-2 loss to Iran.
Southgate believes 29-year-old Maguire, who has started a league game for his club since August, has benefited from England’s style of play – as well as the appreciation from the fans.
“He knows we have complete faith in him,” Southgate said. “He had huge performances for England in two tournaments where we made huge progress as a country.
“As with most players of this quality, it’s a matter of trust. You can see that when he plays in our team. We play in a way that suits him.
“He feels the love from the fans, it was clear in the stadium the other night, and it was great to see because that hasn’t always been the case in recent months with England.
“He helped form a very important base for our team.”
Kane aims to be at his best
England captain Harry Kane won the golden boot at the 2018 World Cup, and although he has yet to score in Qatar – despite England’s nine goals in the group stage – he has provided three assists.
The Tottenham striker had an injury scare earlier in the tournament after suffering a knock against Iran but says he is now focused on his prime.
“First and foremost my foot is fine, no problem at all. It’s getting better every day,” Kane confirmed on Saturday.
“Formally, I feel like I played well. Goals are what I’m going to be judged on the most, but I’m a calm person and I always try to focus on getting the job done. to do my best for the team.
“I will keep doing it. If the goals come, great, it will give us a better chance of winning. It will be a tough game, but tomorrow I hope I can come out on top.
“I feel really good, I feel fit and fit. I feel as fit as ever. Only time will tell. I can try to be at my best with these knockout matches. “