Gareth Southgate urges England to seize ‘chance to make history’

England take on the Netherlands for a place in the Euro 2024 final.

England manager Gareth Southgate says his side have a chance to make history .
England manager Gareth Southgate says his side have a chance to make history . (Adam Davy/PA)

Gareth Southgate says England are ready to make history by reaching a first final on foreign soil, having been inhibited earlier in the Euros by expectations and louder external noise than ever before.

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 Ronald Koeman’s Netherlands standing between them and a second successive European Championship final.

Southgate has been criticised for his team’s style despite getting this far and the manager revealed the negative mood around the team impacted the players during the group stage.

“There’s been a definite shift,” the England boss 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.

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

“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.

“You can bond and we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had Ed Sheeran in to sing and it was great, the players had a couple of beers before the last game.

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

That togetherness has been clear as their two knockout matches went the distance, beating Slovakia 2-1 in the last 16 in extra time before the spot-kick triumph against the Swiss.

England celebrate their victory over Switzerland .
England celebrate their victory over Switzerland . (Adam Davy/PA)

Now comes their toughest challenge yet against the team seventh in FIFA’s world rankings, just two places below England.

Asked if he expected the Dutch to sit in like many of their opponents so far in Germany, Southgate said: “That wouldn’t be normal for the way Dutch teams play and it’s not what we’ve seen from them.

“Equally Ronald’s an experienced coach, he could approach the game in a very different way to the games they’ve played already, so we’re prepared for anything.

“I think it will be an exciting game. You’ve got a lot of very good players on the pitch, a lot of good forward players, both teams.

“We’ve got to be another step (on) from what we showed in the last game. It’s another step up in terms of the quality of some of the opponents and we have to be ready for that.”

Luke Shaw came off the bench against Switzerland .
Luke Shaw came off the bench against Switzerland . (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Southgate has a full squad available for the first time at these Euros, with Marc Guehi back from a one-match ban and Luke Shaw fit to start after making his long-awaited return against Switzerland.

“Luke has been injured for four months, so it wasn’t a possibility for him to play until the last match,” he said of the latter.

“He made a good contribution to the game, so that’s the decision we have to make – whether he’s ready to start, whether that’s the best way to use him.

“But we’re very happy to have him back. He obviously gives us balance, a different balance with the team.

“But also Kieran (Trippier) has done a fantastic job. He’s played in so many important nights for us.”