By Tales Azzoni, Associated Press
PORTO, Portugal (AP) — Coach Gareth Southgate wants one last victory so England can finish its impressive season on a high.
After making it to the last four in the World Cup and earning some high-profile victories after that, England plays Switzerland in the third-place game of the UEFA Nations League on Sunday in Guimaraes.
"No England international is a practice match, every time you wear this shirt, there's an importance for you, for the country, for the supporters," Southgate said Saturday. "We want to finish the season on a good note, with a healthy performance."
England finished fourth at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and earned convincing victories against Spain and World Cup runner-up Croatia in the Nations League. This year, it started with a 5-0 rout of the Czech Republic and a 5-1 victory over Montenegro in 2020 European Championship qualifiers.
Southgate's team arrived at the inaugural Nations League as a title favorite, in contention for its first international trophy since winning the World Cup as far back as 1966. But two sloppy defensive mistakes in extra time of the semifinal against the Netherlands led to a 3-1 loss.
"We lost an important game on Thursday and we've got thousands of fans here and we need to make sure that our performance is one that gives them something back," Southgate said. "That we finish the season in the right manner having had a very good season."
England has not celebrated a competitive title since the World Cup at home more than five decades ago, and it has lost its last five semifinals it played, dating back to the 1968 European Championship.
"We're at the stage now where we know as a team we're close to getting into finals and getting into the opportunities to win trophies, but we haven't got there yet so everybody is disappointed with that, throughout the camp," Southgate said. "What's been encouraging is that it's very clear the players are highly motivated as we go forward, that they know we've got to be spot on in the way that we play and the way we prepare."
Host Portugal will play against the Netherlands in the Nations League final later on Sunday in Porto.
UEFA created the Nations League to give teams more meaningful matches and reduce the number of friendlies. Despite some criticism at first, especially from clubs, the tournament provided some exciting games throughout its four leagues.