London (AFP) – Gareth Southgate has urged England to finish their historic Euro 2020 campaign in a blaze of glory as they bid to win the tournament for the first time in Sunday’s final against Italy.
England have made it to their first major final since winning the 1966 World Cup, sending the country into a frenzy ahead of the Wembley showdown.
Queen Elizabeth and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are among the well-wishers to send good luck messages to Southgate and his team.
After soaking up a rousing send-off from hundreds of fans when they left their St George’s Park base to travel to the team hotel on Saturday, England boss Southgate is well aware of the nation’s burning desire to end their trophy drought.
On the eve of the Three Lions’ biggest match for 55 years, he called on his players to use that passion as fuel to make history.
“It’s been fantastic to have the letter from the Queen, the letter from the Prime Minister to all of the team. The recognition that the players and all of the staff have gone around this in the right way,” Southgate said.
“We had a fantastic reception when we left St George’s Park. All the local villages had come out to line the route and people pulled up so you got an idea of what was going on outside the bubble that we’ve been in.
“The players need to feel that warmth and support. It has definitely helped inspire us. We’re in a final and we are here to win.
“Now we want to go and bring the trophy home for everybody.”
When Southgate took over in 2016, it was hard to imagine England ever reaching this point.
Back then, England had been reduced to a laughing stock after Roy Hodgson presided over a humiliating Euro 2016 exit against Iceland, a debacle that was followed just months later by the sacking of Sam Allardyce after just one match following a newspaper sting.
“When we started three or four years ago we had people throwing paper aeroplanes, they weren’t behind the team and there was an apathy,” Southgate said.
“Now the energy in the stadium is fantastic. That is so important.”
– ‘Stay calm’ –
Southgate’s quiet revolution gradually got England back on track and they reached the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, before his introduction of a crop of vibrant young stars reaped rich rewards at this tournament.
Asked if he had ever contemplated what it would be like to follow Alf Ramsey as the second England manager to get his hands on a major prize, Southgate said: “At the back of your mind you always have to have a bit of a vision on how you would like to see the end and play that out.
“But the reality is you have to focus on the processes and the performance. That’s what we have always done with this team.
“It’s important the players have an understanding of that. Whatever path the game takes, they are prepared and they are ready.”
After the emotional high of coming from a goal behind to beat Denmark in Wednesday’s semi-final, Southgate has focused on keeping his players’ feet on the ground.
“We have talked to players for years about the importance of staying disciplined on the field, staying calm, and I think that is key,” he said.
“The players know the atmosphere around you can be intense but you have to keep your focus.
“It’s not necessarily about doing better. The key is to hit your normal level. Lots of teams in finals end up under-performing.”
Southgate is full of admiration for Roberto Mancini’s Italy, who have shone throughout the tournament and are undefeated in 33 matches.
“There are fantastic players all the way through the Italian team, they have a good tactical plan, an experienced coach and are on an amazing run,” Southgate said.
“We have our own strengths. We’ve tried to play to ours and we need to do the same on Sunday.”