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England have talent pool to follow Spanish route to success, says Northern Ireland boss

By Steven Beacom

What happens next for Gareth Southgate and his England team will be one of the most fascinating aspects of international football in the coming years, according to Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill.

Like O'Neill did with Northern Ireland when he inspired the country to the Euro 2016 knockout stages, Southgate's World Cup journey to the semi-finals with England has helped their national side reconnect with Three Lions fans disillusioned by past failures.

Another common theme between the two bosses was pointed out during the tournament by Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis, who, writing in his World Cup column for the Belfast Telegraph, stated that off the pitch it appeared that Southgate had changed the "approach and mentality" of the English side as O'Neill had done with his players.

Reaching the last-four of the World Cup in Russia means that expectation levels for England have increased ahead of Euro 2020 when the final will be played at Wembley.

O'Neill has a lot of respect for Southgate and feels he has done a fine job with England. He also insists that having world champions at Under-17 and Under-20 levels means the future could be extremely bright if those young players can make the grade at senior level.

"I think Gareth and England did really well in Russia at the World Cup," said O'Neill.

"England had a heavy reliance on set-pieces but it took them to the semi-finals.

"I know a lot of people reflected that England lacked that little bit of a cutting edge in the final third, and I suppose that's probably true when you look at the tournament overall, yet they reached the last-four which no England side had done since 1990, so they deserve credit for that.

"It is an emerging English team and the next phase of English football is going to be really interesting because England have a talent pool simmering beneath their senior squad to match any country. It's what they do with that which will be fascinating to watch in international football over the next few years.

"When you have world champions at two different age groups, 17s and 20s, the talent pool is there. That's proven.

"If you look back at the successful senior Spanish side, who went on to win the biggest tournaments, you will have seen those players coming through the under-age ranks like Iker Casillas, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Ramos etc to form a great national team.

"England have had those successes at under-age and the challenge is how to get those players through to be successful at senior international level, and the barrier to that - as it is for us with Northern Ireland - is getting those players playing regularly in the Premier League."

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