Saturday, July 24, 2021

Southgate challenges England to keep breaking barriers

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 6 Jul 2021

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Gareth Southgate challenged his England players to keep making history ahead of their Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark.

Southgate’s men are aiming to win a first major honour for 55 years but have consistently breached new ground of late.

The last-16 win over Germany was the first time they had beaten a country with a world title to their name in a knockout fixture since the 1966 World Cup final.

A 4-0 quarter-final thrashing of Ukraine made it consecutive semi-finals on the back of the run Southgate masterminded at Russia 2018 – the first time England have accomplished that since going close in the 1968 European Championship.

Nevertheless, that five-and-a-half-decade drought is the one statistic that continues to loom, but one from which the manager suggested his young and gifted squad can feel liberated by.

“We don’t have as good a football history as we like to believe sometimes,” he told a pre-match news conference. “These players are making massive strides.”

“We’ve broken down barriers in this tournament and we have another opportunity to do that tomorrow.

“We have never been to a European Championship final so we can be the first England team to do that which is really exciting.”

There will be 60,000 fans at Wembley on Wednesday – an increased capacity on previous matches in London at Euro 2020.

The win against Germany was celebrated with a lap of honour but Southgate has witnessed a more muted reception to progress among his players when compared to their Russian adventure.

“It definitely feels different this time,” he said. “The World Cup was a very emotional journey for us. We hadn’t won a knockout game for 12 years or something like that.

“The night with Colombia where we won that knockout game, won a penalty shoot-out. It was highly emotional.

“Then the quarter-final with Sweden, again, the first time in a semi-final for [22] years.

“It has felt different this time in that we expected ourselves to get to this point. We’ve had that internal aim.

“We’ve not been our celebrating the victories in the same way. We’ve moved on to the next challenge quickly and it was the same in Rome. Our focus was very quickly on the game against Denmark.”

Denmark boss Kasper Hjulmand suggested the pressure of expectation from the home crowd could get to England, but Southgate was again keen to emphasise a sense of opportunity.

“We’ve had expectation during the whole tournament and I think we have dealt with that really well, in the opening game [against Croatia] for example, and in the game with Germany,” he added.

“But we’ve never been to a final so the pressure is what you choose it to be really. I think it is a motivating thing, it is a challenge for us.

“If we were a country that had won five titles and had to match what had gone before I might feel differently – but we are not.”

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