11 July 2024

We came here to win – Gareth Southgate quickly switches focus to Spain final

11 July 2024

Gareth Southgate loved England’s latest late, late show but the much-criticised manager’s full focus quickly switched from a special semi-final triumph to Sunday’s European Championship final against Spain.

Three years on from losing the continental showpiece to Italy on penalties, the Euro 2020 runners-up earned another shot at glory in Berlin this weekend by beating the Netherlands 2-1.

England underwhelmed at the start of this summer’s tournament as fans turned on manager Southgate but performances have gradually improved as they progressed through the knockouts.

Jude Bellingham’s stunning overhead kick saved their blushes in the round of 16 against Slovakia and sparked a 2-1 extra-time win, before beating Switzerland on spot-kicks after the quarter-final ended 1-1.

Another 120 minutes were on the cards after Harry Kane’s controversial penalty cancelled out Xavi Simons’ strike, only for substitute Ollie Watkins to seal a 2-1 semi-final triumph at the death.

“I took the job to try and improve English football and we’re now in a second final,” Southgate said. “The last one was the first in 50 years. We’re now in the first that isn’t played on our shores.

“I think we’ve got a team that will be together for quite a while, so it’s not as though this is a team that’s at the end of a cycle.

“We’re giving people some amazing nights. I think we’ve given our supporters some of the best nights over the last 50 years, so I’m hugely proud of that.

“I’m delighted if everybody at home is feeling the way we are and the way the supporters in the stadium are feeling.

“But from our point of view, we’re not finished. We’ve got the greatest possible test to prepare for and we came here to try and win the tournament, and that’s still our aim.”

Watkins’ winner sparked wild celebrations in Dortmund and across England, with new Prime Minister Keir Starmer and the Prince of Wales among those to send their congratulations.

The King joined in praising Southgate’s side – but urged them to avoid more last-minute drama.

Told of Charles’ comments, the England boss said with a smile: “Well, I hope they are enjoying a few beers, really.

“We’ve had some incredible nights the last seven, eight years. These games have been dramatic because the goals have come so late.

“The only reason I did the job when I took it on was to try and bring success to England as a nation and to try and improve English football.

“To be able to take the team to a first final overseas, I’m immensely proud of that.

“But now, of course, we’ve come here to win. We play the team who have been the best team in the tournament and we have a day less to prepare, so it’s a huge task. But we’re still here and we’re fighting.”

Spain have been the standout team at this tournament, overcoming hosts Germany in the quarter-finals before beating France in Tuesday’s semi-final.

England will be underdogs at the Olympiastadion for a final few expected Southgate’s side to be in after their unconvincing displays.

Boos greeted the group draws against Denmark and Slovenia, with beer cups even aimed at the manager after the latter stalemate in Cologne.

Southgate admitted in recent days that he has been hurt by the personal criticism, making moments like Wednesday’s semi-final all the sweeter.

“We all want to be loved, right? When you are doing something for your country and you are a proud Englishman, when you don’t feel that back and all you read is criticism, it is hard,” the England boss said.

“To be able to celebrate a second final is very, very special. Especially the fans that travel.

“Our travelling support is amazing, the money they spend, the commitment to do that, to be able to give them a night like this – and we have given them a few over the last six years from Russia onwards – it means a lot.

“If I hadn’t been on the grass, I’d have been watching, celebrating like they were. We’re kindred spirits in many ways. Of course, I’m the one that has to pick a team.

“To be able to give them a night like tonight is very, very special.”

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