Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford believes England can win the World Cup later this year and feels the Nations League can provide the perfect preparation for Qatar.
The 28-year-old heads into the upcoming international break on the back of helping to keep Everton in the Premier League.
Pickford will be hoping to retain the gloves for England for the four Nations League matches, starting with Saturday’s trip to Hungary before facing Germany in Munich and then heading home to play Italy and the reverse tie with the Hungarians at Molineux.
He has 43 England caps and played in the Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy last summer, having also been a key part of the Three Lions side which reached the World Cup semi-finals in Russia three years earlier.
Having been established as Gareth Southgate’s first-choice for some time, Pickford also scored in the penalty shoot-out win over Switzerland which saw England finish third in the inaugural Nations League finals in 2019.
The competition is entering just its third edition but Pickford insists it can be crucial in building up to the World Cup.
“We all know what our ambitions for the World Cup are but these are four very competitive games coming up that we want to win,” he said.
“It’s a competition – I know it’s only a new competition – and it is better than playing in friendly matches. We are going to Munich to play in a full arena so they are very competitive matches which we want to achieve in.”
Asked if he believes England can win the World Cup later this year, Pickford replied: “Yes. Obviously it is going to be challenging against the best teams in the world but it is about us having belief in ourselves.
“We’ve come so far and had the disappointment in the World Cup semi-final and Euro final – that disappointment drives us.
“The disappointment is getting so close and losing, getting to the final and losing.
“We are proud of what we achieved but when you get that close it gives you that added extra confidence to go and win the World Cup.”
While Pickford remains the favourite to retain the number one jersey, especially following Everton’s thrilling survival, his position will come under threat from Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale.
The 24-year-old enjoyed an impressive first campaign at the Emirates Stadium and picked up his maiden England cap in the 10-0 win over San Marino in November.
“Rams has had a really good season, first season at Arsenal and he’s been unbelievable,” Pickford said.
“But for me it’s always concentrating on yourself as well. I know I’ve got to be at my best every day in training, because you’re always going to have that competition, for England and at club level as well.
“You’ve always got to keep pushing yourself, and keep setting yourself targets, and become better and get better.
“You want other people playing well, you want other people pushing, so I think when we’re training together, we’re pushing each other every day to get better and better. When you’ve got three lads, pushing each other to be the best, it sets you up to do well.”
“I think since I’ve been in the system with England, there’s always been good competition. I remember my first camp, I was in here with Harty (Joe Hart) and Jack (Butland) as well. There’s always been competition, I think there always will be competition.
“Yeah, Nick (Pope) and Rams have had two very good seasons, and provide very good competition for me.”