Never before has it seemed so possible that England could be bringing back a major trophy. It’s time to give Gareth Southgate the respect he deserves, stop doubting and believe. We’ve never so confidently sung that football’s coming home again.
In my previous blog post last Wednesday after the historic win against Germany (available here), I argued that while many in the country doubt the decisions made by Gareth Southgate – at some point we need to accept that his decisions are working. Let’s not beat around the bush here, this blog post is 100% a Gareth Southgate fan piece. Even now, there are doubters and cynics spreading negativity and pessimism surrounding the Three Lions Head Coach. But since he took over, we have reached the Semi-Final of the World Cup in 2018. The Semi-Final of the Nations League in 2019 and now the Semi-Final of the EUROs. That level of success for an England team is unheard of. It’s time, that we as a nation, come together and give Gareth the respect he deserves.
Obviously, a lot of the criticism directed towards the management team is down to some of the underwhelming performances and results in recent times. Especially when you look at lacklustre results in the Group Stage against Czech Republic, Croatia and definitely against Scotland. But, again, as I said in last weeks blog, “It isn’t the prettiest football ever played, it is far from perfect…. but it’s working.” Southgate has demonstrated a tactical masterclass so far, ensuring the squad is rotated where necessary to keep fresh legs on the pitch that are able to nullify the threat of the opposition. We saw glimpses of this against Germany, a team no one would deny have plenty of goals in them, but the threat was extinguished. This was no different against Ukraine. Gareth opted to change things up, something many managers may be too afraid to do when things are going well.
Resetting to a back four and introducing (finally) the talents of Jadon Sancho, in for an injured Saka, counter-acted the Ukraine side perfectly. An early goal for Harry Kane would have made things difficult anyway, but Ukraine were never really in the game from the start. As shown against Germany, especially in that second half, the threat England possess going forward along the wings is phenomenal and arguably unmatched on the continent at the moment. Every time England had a man down the side ready to cross, you felt a goal was incoming. Yes, with the utmost respect to Ukraine, this wasn’t the toughest opposition we could have faced, but England demonstrated a clear show of strength that will have left all 3 of our potential opponents concerned.
This Pickford isn’t for moving
After the first game against Croatia, would anyone have predicted this stat? England are the only side in Euros history to not concede a single goal in 5 matches, having kept a clean sheet in every single game so far. It is legitimately a possibility that England could go this entire tournament without conceding a goal. Harry Maguire was phenomenal against Germany, and I’m one of his biggest cynics. Luke Shaw is having the tournament of his life once again providing the ammunition for our forwards. Pickford, while he did show some signs of his nerves getting the better of him on Saturday night with some odd decisions, is resolute in between those posts. Not only are they showing clear signs of threat going forward, but England are genuinely difficult to break past. I really can’t see where the goals are going to be conceded. If we can avoid Italy in the final, I would put serious money on a clean-sheet tournament.
The Great Danes
Goals from Thomas Delaney and Kasper Dolberg sent a strong Denmark through to their first semi-final since 1992. Denmark shocked the footballing world in 92 when they went all the way to win the Euros. Not only were they clear underdogs, but the country had actually failed to qualify for the tournament. The political situation in Yugoslavia forced their disqualification which gave Denmark a last-minute entry into the final 8 team tournament. They remain the only country to win a major tournament they failed to qualify for. Amazingly, they are also breaking records in this tournament as well. Denmark are the only team to lose both their opening matches and qualify for the Round of 16. By process of elimination, this also makes them the only team to reach the Semi-Finals after the same start.
The Danes, looked down and out after those opening two matches, clearly affected by the emotional toll of the opening round. They were plucky against Belgium but were outperformed and it looked bleak for the team from Copenhagen. But somehow the squad turned in a huge performance against Russia, destroyed Wales and were confident against the Czech Republic. Even without their best player in Erikson, this Danish team is not to be underestimated. I’ve talked above about the strength of the English defence, its certainly going to be needed on Wednesday. The stats suggest we should be in for a real battle against the Danes. Denmark have only lost three of their last seventeen international matches (W12 D2 L3). They have also only failed to score in one of their last sixteen internationals. That match being the opening game against Finland.
A day football fans around the world will never forget
Obviously, it would be wrong of me not to remind you of the tragic circumstances surrounding the fixture against Finland and the bizarre decision to play the rest of the game later that evening. I was sat in one of our venues during the fixture having been to watch the Wales match, was barely paying attention to the screen when the friend I was with went quiet. I looked up and saw the horrific images on the screen of Christian Erikson after suffering a cardiac arrest on the pitch. It was a deeply emotional and heart-wrenching sight for everybody inside the pub and watching around the world and we thank the incredible medical staff for everything they did to save Christian’s life.
It’s been twenty-five pain-filled years for England since the Semi-Final loss to Germany at Euro 96. Gareth Southgate’s penalty miss sending England crashing out of the competition on home soil, breaking the hearts of millions who never stopped dreaming. Since then it’s been one dismal and painful loss after another. Southgate brought us to the brink of glory in Russia only to be defeated by Croatia in the Semi-Final of the 2018 World Cup. He teased us with triumph in the glorified ‘International-Friendly’ Nations League Semi-Finals. Never before has it seemed so possible that football could really be coming home. The Danes stand in the way of a home final at the world’s most famous footballing cathedral. While many will hope and pray, we can all sing along to these words:
“Looking back on when we first met; I cannot escape and I cannot forget; Southgate, you’re the one; you still turn me on, and football’s coming home again”
Come on England!