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Gareth Southgate admits England stars gripped by fear of Euro 2024 failure – but reveals huge change in last match

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GARETH SOUTHGATE admits his squad were gripped by a fear of failure in the group stage of these Euros.

But ahead of the semi-final against the Netherlands, the England boss is adamant that his side have shaken off the weight of expectations and are focused on reaching a first ever major final on foreign soil.

Gareth Southgate has declared England have grown into the tournament

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Gareth Southgate has declared England have grown into the tournamentCredit: Getty
He admitted Harry Kane and Co started out with a fear of what could go wrong

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He admitted Harry Kane and Co started out with a fear of what could go wrongCredit: PA
But they have rallied together and have shook off the weight of expectation

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But they have rallied together and have shook off the weight of expectationCredit: Reuters

Southgate claims he had to pick his players off the floor after the 1-1 draw with Denmark – and the deluge of criticism that followed it, which included Gary Lineker branding England’s performance as ‘s**t’.

The Three Lions boss said: “We know we didn’t start the tournament well.

“And for me it’s been a fascinating experience to see that the team had 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 the added expectation – but now they’re very much in a ‘what’s achievable? what’s possible?’ sort of mindset.

“Sometimes, as a coach, you take a step back and observe. One of the strengths of us over the last eight years has been having less fear, less inhibition.

“But at the beginning of the tournament, the expectation weighed quite heavily and the external noise was louder than it has 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 found a way to grind out results.

“That shifted once we got into the quarter-final, we saw a better version of ourselves with the ball, we were freer.”

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Southgate has tried music and booze to help his players bond – but says there is no better way to instil team spirit than scoring dramatic late goals, like Jude Bellingham’s equaliser against Slovakia, or stoically defending a lead.

He said: “We had Ed Sheeran in to sing and it was great. The players had a couple of beers before the last game.

England’s penalty shoot-out secrets

“You can bond in that way but when you are having to head the ball out of the box in the 92nd minute and to try to find a goal in the 96th minute, there is nothing stronger than that for building the spirit of a team.”

It was quite some admission from Southgate to state that his players had been fearful – given that his entire eight-year reign had been built on sweeping away the toxic culture which made quality players terrified of representing their country.

The England boss says he was quick to jump on the problem by urging his players to have more perspective.

Southgate said: “We definitely spoke about it (the fear). When you can sense that feeling you need to confront it. It’s no use avoiding it and hoping it will go away.

“After the Denmark game, 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 point and we were on our knees.

“So I had to correct how they were viewing things. That feeling was being reinforced so vocally and actively outside and they were picking up on that too much.”

England player ratings: Saka the saviour for Three Lions but subbed Kane stuggles in penalties thriller vs Switzerland

BUKAYO SAKA showed huge courage as he dug England out of a hole and through on penalties against Switzerland, writes Tom Barclay.

The Three Lions looked to be going out when Breel Embolo had put Swiss ahead on 75 minutes.

But Arsenal star Saka dragged England back into five minutes later with a stunning effort off the post.

To penalties it went – just like it did between these two sides five years ago in the Nations League.

And just like back then, Jordan Pickford made a save – repelling the Swiss’s first effort from Manuel Akanji.

England were perfect from then on, with Cole Palmer, Jude Bellignam, Saka, Ivan Toney and finally Trent Alexander-Arnold sending the Three Lions into the semi-final.

Here’s how the players rated…

Jordan Pickford: 7

Had his heart in his mouth when Xherdan Shaqiri’s corner deep into extra-time hit the post and bar, but then pulled off a smart stop to take it to penalties.

Saved Manuel Akanji’s first spot-kick by diving low to his left.

Kyle Walker: 6

Spent most of the game on the right side of a three which meant he could not get forward. Embolo got in front of him for Switzerland’s opener. Won the toss so the penalties were taken in front of the England fans.

John Stones: 6

Crisper passing in the first half, much better than his sloppy Slovakia display, but his deflection on Dan Ndoye’s cross diverted it to Embolo.

Ezri Konsa: 6

Was decent in the first half of his maiden start at a major tournament but, like the rest of the team, went into his shell after the break.

Kieran Trippier: 6

Had been expected to play right wing-back but was once again on the left.

Solid defensively but, as has been the case throughout the tournament, offered little going forward on his unnatural side.

Declan Rice: 7

Anticipated, and subsequently, won a number of 50-50s at the base of England’s midfield.

It was his decoy run that opened up the space for Saka to find the corner, before his 25-yard wonderstrike was denied by a flying Yann Sommer save in extra-time.

Kobbie Mainoo: 6

Some decent drives forward from midfield. Looked as if he would fire home an opener just before the break after

Bukayo Saka’s nice cutback, but was denied by Granit Xhaka’s excellent block.

Bukayo Saka: 8 and STAR MAN

Did not play at left wing-back as expected, but was England’s most dangerous attacking player throughout – and none more so when he came to the rescue with his 80th-minute leveller which flew in off the post.

Showed huge courage in the shoot-out as he stroked home his penalty beautifully, three years on from missing in the last Euros final.

Jude Bellingham: 6

Produced a few graceful dribbles which showcased his quality in the first half but pretty quiet.

Looked knackered but showed big cojones with his low penalty.

Phil Foden: 6

Admitted before the game that his central role would suit him better and it seemed to in the first 20 minutes, but faded after that.

Harry Kane: 4

This system just does not suit him. He needs runners, but does not look like he is going to get them.

Just could not get into the game and was subbed out of it in extra-time, seconds after he was sent crashing into his manager on the touchline.

SUBS

Cole Palmer (for Konsa, 78): 7

One of three players to come on in reaction to Switzerland’s opener – why did it take so long, Gareth? Dispatched England’s first spot-kick with aplomb.

Luke Shaw (for Trippier, 78): 6

First minutes of football since February, slotting in on the left side of back three as Southgate went for broke.

Eberechi Eze (for Mainoo, 78): 6

Carved out a nice bit of space for himself in the dying moments but fired wide.

Ivan Toney (For Kane, 109): 7

It was no surprise to see him come with the prospect of penalties on the horizon – what was more of a shock was that it was for spot-kick maestro Kane. Was knocked over in the box right at the end of extra-time, but nothing was given. Confident penalty.

Trent Alexander-Arnold (for Foden, 115): 7

Thrown on late into extra-time. Belted home his spot-kick to win it.

Gareth Southgate: 4

The adjusted back three system worked to a certain extent, but still the approach looked to be to keep it tight and rely on a moment of magic.

Saka provided that for the leveller, but given the talent at his disposal, it seemed very limited.

Took an age to make a change – prompted only by Switzerland going ahead. But got his subs right when it came to the penalty shoot-out.

Southgate says England have had to adapt since his first campaign in charge, at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, when a single knock-out victory, over Colombia on penalties, was considered a success.

England have now reached three tournament semi-finals under Southgate – as many as they had achieved in their entire history up until 2016.

And Southgate said: “I suppose in Russia winning a knock-out game was the first target and it felt from that moment on, the change of mindset was there.

“Because we’ve gone further in more recent tournaments,nobody is thinking a quarter-final is anywhere near enough.

“Now we’re in the real business end of the tournament – which given our history, is not to be underestimated.

“But the great thing is we’re not sitting here happy with a semi-final, we want to go further. Our aim is to come here and win it and we’re now two games away from doing that.”

While England’s display in the quarter-final victory over Switzerland was an improvement on the shambolic last-16 clash with Slovakia, Southgate is still being heavily criticised for his side’s lack of entertainment value.

England’s six tournament semi-finals

ENGLAND will play their seventh tournament semi-final in Dortmund on Wednesday, writes Martin Lipton.

Sun Sport recalls the other six – and remembers where it went right and wrong for the Three Lions

1966 Portugal (Wembley) W 2-1

This was the big test for Alf Ramsey’s “wingless wonders” and one they passed thanks to a masterclass by Bobby Charlton. Charlton steered home the opener from outside the box after Roger Hunt chased down Ray Wilson’s ball over the top and keeper Jose Pereira blocked.

His second was slammed into the bottom corner after Geoff Hurst pushed into his path. Portuguese superstar Eusebio pulled one back from the spot after Jack Charlton handled off the line but England held on.

1968 Yugoslavia (Florence) L 1-0

Alan Mullery became the first England player to be sent off as this European Championship semi-final descended into a kicking match. A forgettable game saw Alan Ball force one panicky clearance against the Yugoslav bar but few real chances before Dragan Dzajic sneaked in behind Bobby Moore to prod the winner past Gordon Banks with four minutes left.

Mullery was then dismissed for kicking out at Dobrivoje Trivic. Goals from Charlton and Hurst earned a 2-0 win over the Soviet Union in the third place game.

1990 West Germany (Turin) D 1-1 (West Germany won 4-2 on penalties)

Arguably England’s best performance under Bobby Robson ended in heartache and tears. Chances came and went at both ends in a whirlwind game before Andreas Brehme’s free-kick looped off Paul Parker to drop beyond a helpless Peter Shilton.

But Gary Lineker then turned Parker’s hopeful ball forward into an assist as he fired past Bodo Illgner. Paul Gascoigne was in bits after the booking that would have ruled him out of the Final and shoot-out misses by Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle were fatal.

1996 Germany (Wembley) D 1-1 (Germany won 6-5 on penalties)

Another story of what might have been as Gareth Southgate joined the long list of shoot-out victims. Terry Venables’ side made the perfect start when Gascoigne’s corner was flicked on by Tony Adams for Alan Shearer to score. But Germany soon levelled through Stefan Kuntz and both goals had narrow escapes in normal and extra-time.

Penalties again and while Shearer, David Platt, Pearce, Gascoigne and Teddy Sheringham all scored, Germany were equally strong. Southgate’s shocker made Andreas Moller the one to win it.

2018 Croatia (Moscow) L 1-2

Another near-miss for England, who ran out of legs and smarts just when it mattered most. Kieran Trippier’s sensational free-kick put Southgate’s side in front and they had the chances to put the Croatians away in the first half.

But they all went begging and Luka Modric and Co wrested control. Ivan Perisic stole in front of Kyle Walker to nudge the leveller and in extra-time Mario Manduzic ran in behind a slow-reacting defence to beat Jordan Pickford. So near, so far.

2021 Denmark (Wembley) W 2-1

“Sweet Caroline” has never been sung so loud and so long than after this epic evening. The Danes went in front from a terrific Mikkel Damsgaard free-kick but Simon Kjaer put through his own goal as he tried to prevent Raheem Sterling converting Bukayo Saka’s cross.

Extra-time brought the key moment, when Sterling went down in the box under pressure from Mathias Jensen. Skipper Harry Kane’s penalty was saved by Kasper Schmeichel but he knocked home the rebound to earn the first England Final since 1966.

The clash with the Dutch is likely to be a more open contest, with Ronald Koeman’s side having scored nine goals and looking far less defensively-minded than England’s previous five opponents.

Southgate played in the 4-1 victory over the Netherlands at Euro 96, widely regarded as England’s finest tournament performance.

But he is a lifelong admirer of Dutch football – especially his rival boss, and fellow former centre-half, Koeman.

Southgate said: “They played incredible football in the 70 and 80s, they were in two World Cup Finals and won the European Championship. I loved watching the Dutch teams.

“Ronald Koeman was a player I admired very much. We didn’t really see centre-backs stepping out with the ball and spraying passes around the pitch in that way.

“We see that more in the English game now but that was unique when I was growing up.

“I’ve got huge admiration for the Netherlands. They have a fairly small population but their football culture for decades has been phenomenally good.

“Our semi-final tally looks healthier now – more like what we’d hope an England history would look like.

“But there are a lot of nations who have won the European Championship and we haven’t. We want to correct that and redress that balance.”

I know we needed penalties… but England showed vs Switzerland why they can WIN Euro 2024, says Jack Wilshere

IT TOOK penalties to put us through but, before the drama, England showed us why they have the ingredients to do something special, writes Jack Wilshere.

It was a win by the narrowest of margins but this was overall our best performance of Euro 2024.

If we can build on the progress we made, especially in the first half, we could WIN the tournament.

It was not a complete display. There were nervy moments and waiting so long to make changes could have cost us.

But we saw what a good team England can be if they do the right things and put players in the right positions.

The first half was England’s best since the first 45 against Serbia. Maybe even better.

One of the keys to that was our press and the effect it had on Granit Xhaka.

For the first time in four games we were pressing high, winning the ball back in better areas and putting Switzerland on the back foot.

In previous matches, our forwards were pressing but the gaps between our lines were too big.

That was leaving huge gaps for Declan Rice and whoever was partnering him to cover.

This time there was better structure and organisation.

There seemed to be more of a plan for when to drop into a block and when to jump out to press.

Now England have the opportunity to build momentum and show why they can win this tournament.

Read all of SunSport columnist Jack’s Euro 2024 articles.



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Gareth Southgate admits England stars gripped by fear of Euro 2024 failure – but reveals huge change in last match
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