Gareth Southgate has underlined the battle facing Lewis Dunk to keep his England squad place.

But the Albion defender has the carrot of being part of a “really exciting” 2019 with the national team.

Dunk was on the bench as England came from behind to beat Croatia 2-1 at Wembley and reach the final four of the UEFA Nations League.

He made his debut in Thursday’s 3-0 friendly win over the USA but saw fit-again Joe Gomez come in as the left-sided centre-back yesterday.

Dunk performed well against the US and Southgate is pleased with his squad’s strength in depth.

But he warned competition is only going to become more intense.

The England boss said: “You need competition for places and we know the level of young players coming through.

“We know the quality of players we have and we are not afraid to put them in.

“We had a 21-year and 22-year-old at the back (Gomez and left-back Ben Chilwell).

“It’s easier to gamble on young forwards but those guys are good enough and have great quality on the ball.

“We now have more opportunities to excite our supporters and connect them with the team.

“Next year now looks like a really exciting year to look forward to.

“All the players who are involved in the squad and all the young ones coming through are desperate to be a part of it.

“That feeling around the team is really powerful and we have got to build on that.”

Former Albion loan star Jesse Lingard came off the bench to drag England level from close range.

Lingard later cleared off his own line in a tense finale before Harry Kane poked home the 86th minute winner from a set-piece.

England should have led at the break but were instead put on the back foot by some brilliant footwork from Andrej Kramaric on 57 minutes to outwit John Stones, albeit his final shot took a deflection to beat Jordan Pickford.

Dunk departed Wembley last night very much part of the England set-up having been part of the last two squads.

Southgate said those, like Dunk, who trained well but only played against the USA were also a big part of yesterday's triumph.

He added: "The tone was set by the game the other night. The players who came in and played at a really high level showed the competition.

"If we have a sloppy training week or we have a sloppy performance the other night, that would roll into today's game.

"None of those players should under-estimate the importance of that in leading towards todsy."

Harry Maguire and James Tarkowski are likely to be back from injury to add competition by the time the next squad is convened next year.

Maguire (knee) is not expected to be around at the Amex on Saturday when Dunk returns to club football in the home game against Leicester City.