“Are we going to become Spain in the next eight months? No we are not.”

Gareth Southgate's early attempts to quash growing expectations ahead of next summer's World Cup will do little to dispel the feeling amongst England supporters.

The Three Lions booked their place at Russia 2018 with a slender victory over Slovenia at Wembley on Thursday night as another hugely satisfying qualifying campaign draws to a close.

Harry Kane's injury-time winner made it seven wins from nine group matches with England barely entering third gear in a drab display in front of the home faithful.

But, as so often is the case, the qualifying campaign as a whole will leave England fans frantically scurrying to book plane tickets to Russia, wondering what if…

Kane has shouldered much of the burning expectation building around a youthful side, with the exuberance of Marcus Rashford ready to burst onto the biggest stage of all.

Southgate knows that he must keep level heads amongst the England ranks and insists the Three Lions are still very much a work in progress.

“They don’t have Champions League winning medals throughout this group, they don’t have league winning medals they are a work in progress,” Southgate explained.

“But they give everything they’ve got for the shirt and they are going to improve over the next few years.”

England will play Lithuania in Vilnius on Sunday in their final competitive game before next summer's finals in Russia, though very little now hangs on the result.

Eight months separate Sunday's clash and the start of the tournament, meaning Southgate has very little time to plot England's path to success.

But what can be considered realistic for the Three Lions in Russia?

Well given England's recent tournament failures, qualifying from the group stage would be an achievement in itself.

A lot will depend upon who they avoid in December's draw but Southgate will be well aware that the final few months leading up to the tournament could prove pivotal to their ambitions.

“Well it depends on where you would like to be and what is realistic about how quickly you can improve,” he added.

“What we want to do is maximise the abilities that we have and the capabilities that we have.

“Are we going to become Spain in the next eight months? No we’re not, but respectfully they have got a squad full of players that have won league titles and won Champions Leagues.

“We keep talking about world class players and until you are able to really perform and prove yourself on that stage then you can’t consider yourself in that company, but, our lads now have the chance to play on that stage again.”

Next month will provide the perfect opportunity for England to showcase their talents against the very best, when Brazil and Germany visit Wembley back-to-back.

It's these sorts of tests that will either shape or hinder their ambitions of going into a major tournament very much on the front foot.

While friendly matches can seem fairly pointless affairs at times, Southgate will know that England must look to the lay foundations starting with Sunday's clash in Lithuania, which still clearly holds great importance to the Three Lions boss.

“I won't release any players, no,” he continued.

“We have to assess them, injury-wise. But I won't be releasing players.

“We're a squad. We stay together as a squad. Maybe some time we might enjoy we're at the World Cup, though that might take a few minutes.

“But there will be England supporters going to Lithuania and we have a duty to put in a performance. We want to win the game and stay unbeaten.

“There are one or two players we want to look at, but we want to continue building towards the World Cup.”

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