Southgate throws down World Cup gauntlet to England stars ahead of triple-header

Gareth Southgate has given England’s players a rabble-rousing speech – and told them World Cup places are at stake.

Southgate called a team meeting for the players as soon as they reported up at St George’s Park and reminded them the journey to next year’s finals begins now.

England boss Southgate faces three qualifiers starting with San Marino on Thursday night, then in Albania on Sunday and the clash with Poland next week.

Southgate has been concerned about the gruelling Premier League fixture list, widespread injury absences and a tough run-in ahead of the Euros.

England are missing the likes of Jordan Henderson, Jordan Pickford and Jack Grealish while club managers have been sounding off publicly about their concerns about the World Cup qualifiers.

Gareth Southgate has warned England’s stars their World Cup spot is at risk

But Southgate has stressed the importance of these games, how players must view them as key to holding down places this summer and also ahead of the World Cup while being positive about the get-together.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is one of several managers to have voiced concerns about call-ups and risks about international travel.

However, Southgate wants the players to be focused on the job in hand and says they can take a major step towards Qatar by winning all three games.

Southgate has insisted that the last World Cup in 2018 should serve as a reminder of just how important England being successful is to the whole country.

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Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins received his first England call-up and has confirmed Southgate has told the players the importance of the qualifiers.

Watkins said: “From day one, since I got here yesterday, that’s what the manager has been big on.

“We’ve had a couple of meetings now and the main focus is that this is leading us up to the World Cup and just to be focused really, not to slip up, do everything properly and focus on what’s coming up next.”

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