May 27, 2024


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Euro 2020: England aspire to ‘champagne football’, says manager Gareth Southgate

Manager Gareth Southgate says England aspire to play “champagne football” but that he has been pleased with the defensive solidity they have shown to qualify top of Euro 2020 Group D.

England produced a professional display and kept a third clean sheet in three games to beat the Czech Republic 1-0.

It means a last-16 spot and a possible tie with France, Germany or Portugal.

Asked about the expectation to produce “champagne football”, Southgate said: “We would like to see that as well.”

He told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I think if you spoke to the players, we spoke a lot about that freedom, but we are a little bit short in a few areas of match fitness and sharpness, and I thought as the game wore on that started to take its toll a bit.

“We have hit the woodwork in all three matches and the other thing we have to get better on is our attacking set-play which is normally such a good source of goals for us and our deliveries have been really poor.

“We are difficult to score against at the moment and although we’re not perhaps flowing as much as we’d like, that solidity is critical for any team doing well.”

Raheem Sterling scored England’s only goal at Wembley, only their second of the tournament, both of them converted by the Manchester City winger.

At the other end, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was rarely threatened, although he did pull off a fine diving save from Tomas Holes.

Southgate was pleased with what he saw, especially in light of playing time he was able to give defender Harry Maguire and midfielder Jordan Henderson, both of whom were recovering from injuries suffered in the domestic season when Euro 2020 began.

“I enjoyed a lot of our build-up play,” he said. “In the first half in particular, the interchange of positions of our forwards was very effective.

“I think what they’re showing is adaptability and resilience. We’ve had to make so many changes and known that players right from the start weren’t available.

“It was the first time we’ve seen Harry Maguire tonight, and we’ve only seen 45 minutes for Jordan Henderson. We’re dealing with all those issues and striding on and we know there are bigger tests ahead.

“All they can do as players is win the group, which they have.”

‘Saka gives England something they’ve been looking for’

Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka was one of four players brought into the side by Southgate after the disappointing 0-0 draw with Scotland on Friday.

It was only the 19-year-old’s sixth cap and the first he has won at Wembley, but his was an intelligent and, at times, exciting attacking display, full of driving runs.

It was one of these runs that got England up the pitch to start the move that ended in Sterling heading the only goal.

“It’s an amazing experience,” Saka said afterwards. “It’s the first time I’ve been at Wembley, which is just around the corner from my old house. To hear the fans chanting my name was an amazing experience.”

He told ITV Sport: “The manager told me to go out and express myself – to play how I have played for my club all season. Sometimes that means driving at the opponents and I did that and got us up the pitch.”

His manager was certainly pleased with his display, telling BBC Sport: “[He was] really outstanding. He is so comfortable receiving under pressure and strong holding players off.

“He’s been called a slippery eel before because he can wriggle out of trouble and of course he can go on his left or right side, which is difficult for defenders to defend against.

“He has deserved his chance and we’re really pleased he grabbed his opportunity.”

Former England international Chris Waddle, a man who knows a thing or two about providing a threat from the wing for his country, told 5 Live: “I think he gives something we’ve been looking for: energy, takes people on, takes risks and he’d be difficult to play against whoever they play.

“He’s young, he’s fearless and it shows in the way he plays. You can tell he’s enjoying it. He probably thought he wouldn’t be in this tournament and he’s one of those who we say, go out and enjoy this tournament – and he is.”

‘It is complicated for them to start next week’

Southgate was also pleased to win after a difficult few days, which saw Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell have to go into isolation following a positive Covid-19 test for Scotland midfielder Billy Gilmour.

The pair were seen interacting with Chelsea team-mate Gilmour after Friday’s draw with Scotland at Wembley.

Their involvement in the last-16 tie was placed in doubt by Southgate, who also revealed that Phil Foden missed Tuesday’s game to avoid the risk of picking up a suspension for the next round.

“Phil was on a yellow card and given that there has to be a doubt about the two boys, I didn’t want to lose a third before any possible injuries,” said Southgate. “We think the quarantine ends midnight of match day [for the last 16].

“What we don’t know is how much training they can do and what might be possible.

“They can obviously train individually and we think there might be a period where they can train in groups distanced, but I’m not sure they can join in the whole group.

“So the reality is it’s really complicated for them to start in the game next week.”

‘To win a tournament you have to beat those teams’

England topping their group sets up a last-16 tie with the runner-up of Group F, which is likely to be one of Europe’s heavyweight sides – world champions France, European champions Portugal or three-time Euros winners Germany.

Hungary are the other possible opponent from this group.

Both Germany and Portugal have knocked England out of the Euros in the past – the former in 1996, the latter in 2004.

However, England have at least ensured that they will remain on home soil at Wembley for the tie, where they are unbeaten in seven matches.

“To win a tournament you have to beat those teams,” said Southgate.

“We wanted to make sure we won the group and stayed at Wembley. We don’t know if that is advantageous in terms of where the draw will take us but we would rather be here. We could have come second and still have had a really difficult draw.

“To win the group is good for confidence and it is great our fans will see us in the next round here.”

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