Gareth Southgate says his ambition is for England to be ranked No 1 in the world.
His side looked a long way from that level during a hard-fought victory over a Malta side sitting 171st in the standings at Wembley on Friday night.
However, the 2-0 win means England have won Euro 2024 Qualifying Group C and are all but assured of a place in Pot 1 for next month’s tournament draw.
Southgate has now called on his side to raise their standards in North Macedonia on Monday night. It may be a dead rubber but the England boss wants to see consistent top-level performances for his team to be regarded as the best side on the planet.
“Qualification is over,” said Southgate, whose England team is ranked fourth in the latest edition of the FIFA standings.
FIFA World Ranking
“Some of the players have three games to be in a squad, some have maybe three to be in a team, maybe a couple more if we talk about the team.
“There are some things we want to see. But if we are going to be a top team, then the level of performance has to be there every time.”
Asked if No 1 motivates him, Southgate said: “Yes, because in the end you achieve that through consistency and you also have to play well in tournaments because the ranking points are higher in those tournament.
“Also, it sets attitudes every day on the training pitch, outside the training pitch.
“When you’re going to be the top-ranked team, there’s no room for stupidity or casualness. That’s what we need to drive.”
England currently sit fourth in the FIFA world rankings, making it five consecutive years in the top five.
Their best ever run since its launch was six months in the top five in 1997 and 1998, although there was much criticism for Southgate and speculation about his future.
Monday is England’s final qualifier before the manager’s contract expires next year and he smiled when told that former Football Association executive David Dein had said he should get a new deal.
Asked if he expected this to be his last qualification for the hotseat, Southgate said: “I never thought about it.
“I’m thinking about tomorrow’s game and the need for a better performance than Friday so that’s what I’m focusing on.
“I feel like we’re almost talking about the Euros and I don’t see our focus being in the right place at the weekend.
“So, it’s tomorrow, then it’s March, then it’s summer. And we’ll go from there.”
Southgate played down suggestions his future was a distraction but suggested his comments about their Euros ambitions might be.
“Well, I think talking about summer is a distraction on Friday in its own way,” he added.
“Look, in football management, frankly I think you have to look more than three or four games ahead.
“But I think when you have a tournament coming up, inevitably, as an international manager, you’re judged by tournaments so everything before that is pointless, really.”
England’s final camp of the year was marred by absences.
Five players withdrew from the original squad due to injury and two others left the squad before they flew to the Balkans.
The FA announced that Kieran Trippier had returned home due to a personal issue, while injury meant Jarrod Bowen left camp on Sunday.
A sold-out Tose Proeski Arena awaits England’s absentee-hit 21-man squad as the Macedonians look to overturn June’s 7-0 drubbing at Old Trafford.
“We are playing a team who, even if they don’t qualify, have a lot of pride and they will be hurt by what happened in Manchester,” Southgate added.
“We have to be ready for a very good atmosphere. Full crowd, full stadium.
“We’ve had a calendar year where we’ve been really good, so we want to finish well.”
Analysis: Test in North Macedonia will set the tone for England ahead of Euro 2024
England are all-but-guaranteed to be in Pot 1 among the top seeds for next month’s Euro 2024 draw – but Gareth Southgate has problems to overcome.
They have achieved everything they wanted in the competitive games building up to the next summer tournament before their final group game against North Macedonia on Monday.
So, with this game a real dead rubber, the equivalent of an international friendly, what priorities will the England manager assess in the coming 90 minutes?
Sky Sports News senior reporter Rob Dorsett analyzes what the England boss is looking for.