England will have to step it up again admits Southgate

Gareth Southgate says England will have to be better with the ball against Italy in Sunday’s European Championship final but his players have shown they can find different ways to win.

After sweeping Ukraine aside 4-0 in Rome, the Three Lions had to come from behind for the first time in the tournament to beat Denmark in extra-time on Wednesday.

And whilst manager Southgate acknowledged there were aspects his team need to improve on, they showed similar resilience to Italy who came through their semi-final against Spain on penalties.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“I didn’t think we kept the ball well enough through Denmark’s pressure from their front three and we’re going to have to do that better on Sunday because Italy are very good at it,” reflected Southgate. “But we found a way to win and a way to find the spaces further forward. Once we got into their half, we were a threat all night. All of our wide players – Raheem (Sterling), Bukayo (Saka), Jack (Grealish), Phil (Foden) when he came on, Mason (Mount), those players that got in between the lines or were in those one-against-one situations wide, they were a real handful.

Victory roar: England's manager Gareth Southgate celebrates the win over Denmark. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)
Victory roar: England's manager Gareth Southgate celebrates the win over Denmark. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

“We managed to create good openings. I thought the goalkeeper (Kasper Schmeichel) had a fantastic game, he’s a top goalkeeper, but we found a way to win.

“What we said to them before the game was they’d found ways to win matches over the last three or four years in whatever circumstances it’s taken, whether that’s been leading from the front, coming from behind, extra-time, penalties. We wanted them to have confidence in that.”

Southgate was impressed with the way his side managed the game once Harry Kane put away the rebound from his saved penalty midway through extra-time.

“In the second half of extra-time I think it took us a while to realise actually just to keep the ball was the easiest way to finish the game,” he admitted. “It took us five minutes so we invited more pressure in that initial period than we needed to.

Get in: England's Harry Kane, right, celebrates his winning goal with Phil Foden. (Laurence Griffiths/Pool Photo via AP)

“Understandably given how long we’ve all waited for a moment like this when you’re ahead there’s a tendency to sit.

“It’s human nature. You’re in a moment none of us have been that close (to) before but when they did lock onto that they kept the ball really well and managed the game really well.”

Brave and often unpopular decisions have been a hallmark of Southgate’s tournament. Grealish’s invention from the bench has made him a cause celebre amongst fans but having introduced him at 1-1 on Wednesday, Southgate substituted him for defender Kieran Trippier at 2-1.

“We changed the shape because we know Denmark in those moments have thrown four players into the box and we needed to keep pressure on high up the pitch but to be able to have the numbers to defend balls into the box,” explained Southgate.

Back to earth: England manager Gareth Southgate (right) alongside John McDermott at trainign yesterday. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

“We know the way Denmark have gone in their previous matches, they’ve had very clear strategies when they’ve gone behind, they’ve gone 4-2-4 basically and thrown everybody forward.

“Raheem was causing so many problems and was so difficult to play all night, it was going to have to be Phil or Jack to come off.

“It wasn’t an easy decision but he (Grealish) totally understood it. In the end he said he to me, ‘Gaffer, I’m not really bothered, I’ve got to the final!’”

During the 90 minutes Southgate was reluctant to make too many changes from the bench - six were permitted once the game went into an extra 30 minutes – as he has been throughout the tournament despite a 12-man bench packed with talent.

“We felt the team were playing well so there’s a risk you feel the need to make changes and affect the game when if the team are playing well maybe you don’t need to do too much,” he argued.

“All of the players that came into the game had a positive impact and it gave us the chance to have some freshness and the opposition were constantly changing tactically but we felt the way we were dealing with that, it wasn’t a huge problem. Sometimes it’s bolder to do nothing.”

Meanwhile, England could face a fine after being charged on three counts for the behaviour of their fans on Wednesday.

UEFA’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body will look into a laser pen being shone at former Leeds United goalkeeper Schmeichel just before he saved Kane’s penalty, booing of the Danish national anthem and fireworks let off in the stadium.

Sunday’s final will be refereed by Netherlands official Bjorn Kuipers.