London (AFP) – Gareth Southgate has warned his England players not to rest on their laurels as they aim to reach the Euro 2020 semi-finals with a victory against Ukraine on Saturday.
Southgate’s side are heavy favourites to progress from the quarter-final in Rome, but the England manager is keen to avoid a loss of focus after the emotional high of Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat of old rivals Germany.
England’s win at an ecstatic Wembley was their first over the Germans in the knockout stages of a major tournament in 55 years, ending decades of angst against Die Mannschaft.
The triumph has presented England with a golden opportunity to win their first senior international trophy since the 1966 World Cup, with underdogs Ukraine standing in the way of a semi-final at Wembley against Denmark or the Czech Republic.
“Right from the final whistle the other day, the players were already talking about the next game and preparing for it,” Southgate told reporters on Friday.
“They recognised that although they loved the experience of the last game, you move on quickly in tournaments and we have not got to the point we want to be at yet.
“It’s not been too difficult to refocus people. The opportunity is there, the confidence is there. They are looking forward to the challenge.”
After being hailed as heroes by 40,000 jubilant England fans on Tuesday, Southgate’s team will experience a more subdued atmosphere in Rome.
Only expats based in Italy will be able to support England in the stadium as coronavirus restrictions stopped the Football Association selling tickets to fans in Britain.
But Southgate believes that could be a good thing as a more tranquil environment could keep his players on an even keel emotionally.
“It’s good to come away from Wembley now. It would have been hard to replicate the atmosphere we had the other day three days later. To have a different focus, different surroundings is good for us,” he said.
“It will be more like the crowds we had for the first three group games, but with less England fans. Our players are used to playing Premier League games all season without any fans in.
“It doesn’t matter too much to us. You need good leaders in that situation and we have plenty of them.”
– ‘Array of attacking talent’ –
One concern about England’s trip to Italy — their first match away from Wembley in the tournament — is the potentially stifling heat.
“Although we won’t be right in the middle of it, the heat will be a factor by the end of the game I would think,” Southgate said.
Southgate has an embarrassment of riches in attacking areas as he contemplates his team to face Ukraine.
Raheem Sterling has scored three of England’s four goals, while Jack Grealish played a key role in the Germany win after coming off the bench.
Southgate revealed an injury to Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka — who started against Germany before being replaced by Grealish — is his only fitness issue ahead of the quarter-final.
“We have to check on Bukayo, he had a slight knock today, but other than that everyone is available,” Southgate said.
“We’ve just got such a strong array of attacking talent. It’s impossible to keep everybody happy.
“Raheem has been on fire, his goals have made it more difficult for others to get in on that left hand side that they favour.”
Southgate also denied claims he might rest Phil Foden, Harry Maguire, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips to avoid them earning a booking that would rule them out of the semi-finals.
“I can’t think of a country in the world that would do that, especially not a country that has only been in three semi-finals in their history,” he said.
“We won’t make any decisions based on yellow cards. It would be a big mistake and an insult to Ukraine.”