Gareth Southgate believes it is crucial for England to pit their wits against the best in preparation for next summer’s World Cup.
Parachuted into the hotseat after Sam Allardyce’s brief reign, the former defender steered the Three Lions to the top of Group F over the past year.
Southgate has been a safe pair of hands but is well aware that England now need to go up another level.
Underwhelming back-to-back 1-0 wins against Slovenia and away in Lithuania on Sunday only underlined the work at hand, but a different proposition lies ahead next summer.
England will face some of the world’s biggest names in a bid to get ready for Russia, with world champions Germany and five-time World Cup winners Brazil arriving in friendlies next month.
“I don’t think confidence was an issue,” Southgate said after Harry Kane’s penalty narrowly saw off Lithuania in Vilnius. “I think we had players that had an opportunity.
“We didn’t miss a shed load of chances, we didn’t create enough clear-cut chances for them.
“I don’t think (Marcus) Rashford, (Dele) Alli and Kane are short of confidence in any way. I’ll think they’ll score enough goals.
“We’ve got you make sure what’s around those type of players is solid, secure, that we create a few more chances than we did today.
“In terms of the quality of the opposition that we face, we’ve got test ourselves against the best because our defenders have to have a different sort of challenge.
“They have got to be able to play out under more pressure, but also defend against top strikers.
“If we’re going to go with young players, which generally speaking we are, how are they going to improve if we don’t play against the very best?
“They need to understand the level, which I think they do, and we need to put them into those sort of situations.”
Southgate has preached patience and realism as he looks to steer England to a brighter future – something that it is perhaps hard to believe in when you are struggling to break down the side 120th in the world rankings.
Nevertheless, England’s travelling hordes kept behind their young side despite the football being as drab as the weather in Lithuania, applauding their side – and their achievements – at the end.
“I thought the support was fantastic,” he said.
“We’ve made a point of going over to the fans at the end of games and I thought it was nice with the acknowledgement.
“I go back to the players in this group have given everything they’ve got, and I can’t fault their application and they have qualified the country for a World Cup.
“I thought it was a nice moment, there was a bit of bonding at the end, that there was an appreciation for that.
“I think we were very appreciative that the supporters were as they were today.
“I think they recognised today was a very young side, I think 24 average age, so because of that, lots for me to go away and think about.
“There were some individual performances that I wanted to see, and it was a good opportunity in this game to do it.”
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