Gareth Southgate is refusing to back down and has no regrets at Euro 2024, as England prepare for their first knockout test against Slovakia on Sunday.

The Three Lions entered the competition in Germany among the pre-tournament favourites, subsequently topping Group C to make it into the round of 16.

Yet their pole position belies the performance levels of their first three games, with drab draws against Denmark and Slovenia following a narrow 1-0 win over Serbia in the opener.

Jude Bellingham scored in that opening victory, while Harry Kane netted in the 1-1 draw with Denmark that preceded a disappointing goalless outing against Slovenia.

With such a depth of attacking talent available, some have questioned Southgate's ability to get the best out of the likes of Bellingham, Kane, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden.

However, the England manager has no doubts over his side, nor any interest in the external noise from critics.

"I won't be backing away from anything," Southgate said. "Whatever the feeling is towards me, you've got to get behind the team, and that's crucial.

"Players have loved playing for England the last six or seven years, we've got to keep that – we have to keep that.

"If we don't, then I understand the feeling towards me, but back the players."

The left-back situation has also been a topical point of discussion, with Kieran Trippier operating as a makeshift full-back while Luke Shaw continues to be unfit.

Southgate said after the Slovenia draw that Shaw, who has not featured for club or country since February, could be available for the "next game".

Selection issues aside, England will be looking to reach the quarter-final stage of consecutive European Championship tournaments for the first time in history.

Standing in their way is a Slovakia side that edged through Group E, progressing on goal difference as Romania, Belgium and Ukraine all finished level on four points.

Slovakia head coach Matjaz Kek is wary of England's quality going into this one, too.

"We are playing against one of the favourites, if not the favourite, for the tournament," Kek said. "We respect England very much. We know their strengths and their individuals.

"The Euros have just started, and I see them as one of the favourites to win the tournament. I don't know why I would question England, be it the individuals or the team in general."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

ENGLAND – HARRY KANE

Kane has come under some scrutiny for his ability to lead England's frontline, with questions over his pressing and speed up top.

Yet, the England captain has scored six goals in his last six appearances in the knockout stages of major international tournaments (two in two at the 2022 World Cup, four in four at Euro 2020).

His seven goals in the knockout stages overall are also the most of any Three Lions player, a tally he will hope to add to in Gelsenkirchen.

SLOVAKIA – MILAN SKRINIAR

Milan Skriniar and the Slovakia defence will be tasked with stopping the prolific Kane on Sunday, though the centre-back has impressed in other aspects of the game at Euro 2024.

Only Germany's Toni Kroos (130) played more forward passes in the group stage than Skriniar (92), whose 203 successful passes so far are the most ever by a Slovakian player in a single edition of a major tournament.

MATCH PREDICTION: ENGLAND WIN

It is hard to look past anything other than an England win here, with Southgate's side winning 65% of pre-match simulations in Opta's data-led predictions.

That favourable probability owes to a strong head-to-head record as England have won five of their six games against Slovakia.

However, England's one failure to win this fixture was at Euro 2016 in their only previous major tournament meeting, a goalless draw in Saint-Etienne, where the Three Lions had their most shots (29) in a European Championship match on record (since 1980).

Expect Slovakia to fly out the blocks, too, as they have scored first in three of their six clashes with England, yet they went on to lose each of those games 2-1: in both Euro 2004 qualifiers and a 2018 World Cup qualifier in September 2017.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

England – 65%

Draw – 20.6%

Slovakia – 14.4%