London (AFP) – Gareth Southgate says England are ready to end their semi-final hoodoo as they prepare to face Denmark in the last four of Euro 2020, bidding to reach their first final at a major tournament since 1966.
England topped their group and beat old foes Germany in the round of 16 before ratcheting up expectations with Saturday’s thumping 4-0 quarter-final win against Ukraine in Rome.
England have fallen at the penultimate hurdle at major tournaments on four occasions since winning the World Cup in 1966, including their defeat by Croatia at the World Cup in Russia three years ago.
But Southgate believes his side have learned from that disappointment and are ready to take the next step.
“We’ve knocked off so many hoodoos or perceived barriers already and I feel like this group of players will feel this is just the next challenge,” he said.
“I guess the interesting part for us is we won’t feel totally satisfied if it’s just a semi-final for us, whereas maybe three years ago, although there was massive disappointment after the semi-final, there was a feeling we’d come a long way.
“Now we’ve replicated what we did there, but that won’t be enough to fulfil the group. That’s a positive sign.”
A key difference from 2018 is heightened expectation, with Southgate himself admitting their benchmark in Russia was to end England’s 12-year wait for a knockout victory.
The former international defender now has more knockout wins than any previous England manager and will go looking for another in Wednesday’s semi-final bolstered by a boisterous partisan crowd of 60,000-plus at Wembley.
“It’s great to be coming back now,” said Southgate, who expects teenager Bukayo Saka to return to training on Monday after missing the Ukraine match with a slight knock.
“To go and have that different environment, preparation, focus was definitely helpful. But now to be coming back to Wembley is a great thing for us.”
Southgate says going through “real-life experiences together” such as the sickening racism experienced in Montenegro and Bulgaria in Euro 2020 qualifiers has helped create a bond among his players.
Semi-final opponents Denmark have also been brought closer together following Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest in their group opener. The Inter Milan player needed resuscitation on the pitch before a successful operation in hospital.
“We talk about perspective in sport but we rarely have it,” Southgate said. “This was a moment that brought it home for all of us.
“I can also imagine what it has done for the Danish team, their bond.
“We are talking about the things we have been through but what they went through that day — the way their captain was and the way the group was — and how that would have connected with their supporters. That’s pretty powerful.”