Sunday, July 21, 2024

Gareth Southgate: England out to ‘break new ground’ after overcoming inhibition

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Gareth Southgate says England’s players are ready to make history, having overcome external noise, the weight of expectation and a fear of failure to reach another European Championship semi-final.

After topping their group in unconvincing fashion, the Euro 2020 runners-up needed a stunning Jude Bellingham strike to save their blushes against Slovakia before beating Switzerland on penalties.

England are now preparing for a third semi-final in four major tournaments, with the Netherlands standing between them and a second successive Euros final.

“You’re now into that moment in the tournament where it’s what’s possible, what’s achievable, rather than what might go wrong,” boss Southgate said.

“This is now the chance to make history, which we’ve enjoyed doing. A chance to get to a first final not held in England – first time England will have ever done that.

“We’re trying to break new ground. That’s difficult and it’s complicated, but the players have responded brilliantly and resilience has been built.”

That strength was needed during the early stages of the tournament in Germany, where frustrated England fans greeted the end of the group draws against Denmark and Slovenia with boos.

Some beer cups were even aimed Southgate’s way after the latter stalemate in Cologne, where he warned the “unusual environment” around them was making life harder for the players.

High-profile criticism from former internationals like Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer added to the background noise, which all combined to have a negative impact on the team.

England were booed after the group-stage draw with Denmark (Bradley Collyer/PA).

“There’s been a definite shift,” Southgate said on the eve of the Signal Iduna Park showdown. “I was really interested (because) as a coach sometimes you take a step back and you observe.

“One of the strengths of us over the last seven, eight years has been less fear, less inhibition.

“But I think at the beginning of the tournament, the expectation weighed quite heavily and of course the external noise was louder than it’s ever been.

“I felt we couldn’t quite get ourselves in the right place and, in the end, what was impressive was that the players ground it out, they ground results out and found ways to win.

“I felt that shifted once we got into the knockout stage and definitely in the quarter-final. I thought we saw a better version of us with the ball, freer.

“I’m not sure any of the messaging changed, but I just felt the group changed.”

England players rush to celebrate their penalty shootout win over Switzerland
England celebrate their penalty shootout win over Switzerland (Bradley Collyer/PA).

Pushed on inhibition earlier in the tournament, the England boss said: “For me, that’s been a fascinating experience to see the team have been fearful in the opening part of it. Almost concerned about what could go wrong.

“We haven’t had that for a few years. Maybe that was expectation, maybe that was a lot of external things as well.

“But now they’re very much in a ‘what’s achievable, what’s possible’ sort of mindset.

“I think we saw a truer reflection of ourselves in the last game and there was a lot within that performance to build on and take into the game tomorrow.”

Southgate says his squad now want to “use the opportunity to change history as a motivation” after overcoming a sense of fear.

“I think we were definitely open about it, because I think when you can sense that feeling you need to confront it,” the England boss added.

“It’s no use avoiding it and hoping it will go away.

“In the end we sort of had to grind it out on the pitch. The Denmark game, the point we got, there’s a picture of the players looking distraught. They’ve got a point that essentially ensured us qualifying.

“Every other team was celebrating with their fans at that and we were on our knees, so I had to correct how they were viewing things.

“But of course that feeling was being reinforced so vocally and actively outside and I think they were picking up on that too much.”

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