Repino (Russia) (AFP) – Monday’s World Cup opener against Tunisia will be a completely new experience for most members of England’s young World Cup squad but confidence is sky-high in the camp, according to midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
The Chelsea midfielder, who spent last season on loan at Crystal Palace, has just four caps to his name and is not alone in having no previous major tournament experience in Southgate’s 23-man squad.
However, hopes that England could defy low expectations in Russia have been boosted by promising performances in warm-up friendly wins over Nigeria and Costa Rica.
“Gareth portrays a relaxed atmosphere, a confident atmosphere — the players can feel it and that he has the utmost faith in us,” said Loftus-Cheek, 22, on Friday.
“We’ve played some really good football, got some good results, coming into this World Cup and everyone is confident.”
In stark contrast to previous tournaments, where England squads have kept their distance from a critical media, players and journalists have so far mixed happily in Russia.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford joined defender Gary Cahill in winning a darts competition against a selected media member on Friday as further evidence of the relaxed atmosphere in the camp.
“The World Cup is the pinnacle of football and I can imagine it would get to some players but with this group everyone is relaxed,” added Loftus-Cheek.
“We’re all good friends. It’s not like there are little cliques. It shows in training. There is a good mix of banter and everything is flowing really well.”
Loftus-Cheek admitted Southgate has given no indication yet to the players over his starting line-up for Volgograd in three days’ time.
According to media reports, Loftus-Cheek is set to miss out, with Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Jesse Lingard of Manchester United joining Dele Alli in a midfield three behind Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling in attack.
In defence, Harry Maguire looks set to edge out Chelsea captain Cahill in a back three with Ashley Young expected to be preferred to Danny Rose at left wing-back.