Euro 2020: Southgate needs to get balance right to maintain hopes of a nation – Stuart Rayner

To be at Wembley on Tuesday as more than 40,000 fans were Sweet Carolining away, it felt like England had just won their first European Championship.

But they had not.

Nor had they climbed Everest, stressed manager Gareth Southgate.

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The 2-0 win over Germany goes down as one of the great victories in English football history less for the quality of the performance or opposition, more the ten-tonne gorilla it got off their back.

England manager Gareth Southgate ponders his selection options during Friday's training session at St George's Park, Burton, yesterday. Picture: Nick Potts/PA

Good times never felt so good.

Go out in the quarter-finals, though, and this will not be a fondly-remembered tournament. And England could well go out in the quarter-finals this evening.

Man for man, they are better than Ukraine, just like the Netherlands were better than the Czech Republic, and France superior to Switzerland.

Amongst the many heartening things about the 2-0 victory over Germany was the attitude of the players afterwards.

England captain Harry Kane shares a joke with manager Gareth Southgate during Friday's training session at St George's Park. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA

Often in modern elite professional sport you can tell they have all had a line drummed into them because they parrot it back to the media. England’s was music to the ears.

“We haven’t done anything yet,” said Sheffield-born Harry Maguire – and Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Pickford and Southgate.

A lot of things which were in England’s favour on Tuesday will not be tonight.

The atmosphere that visibly overwhelmed captain Kane as he gazed into the stands when he was supposed to be answering questions from a television reporter will not be there.

BIG DECISIONS: Will Jack Grealish, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips all feature for England in their European Championships quarter-final against Ukraine? Picture: Eddie Keogh/ Getty Images.

Tonight will be the only time in the tournament England do not play at Wembley, and they will not even be able to rely on the backing that pre-Covid came as standard away from home.

The capacity at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico will only be 16,000, and few will be English.

Some will, no matter how hard the authorities have tried to discourage fans who had to start quarantining on Monday to be allowed into the ground if they came from these shores. There have been attempts to pass tickets to UK nationals living on the continent, and therefore able to travel more freely.

This game means travel for Southgate’s squad – the Welsh players dragged from pillar to post will have their violins out. Ukraine face it too, from Glasgow, but have already hopped to Amsterdam and Bucharest.

Then there is reduced preparation time. England had the almost unheard-of luxury of a full week to prepare how to combat Germany’s 3-4-3.

Not until about 10.30pm on Tuesday did they know they would face Ukraine, who switched from a back four to a three for their dramatic late with over Sweden.

Having for the first time this tournament reverted to the 3-4-3 Southgate earmarked for the biggest games, whether to stick with it becomes a difficult decision.

Ukraine are unlikely to have more of the ball, as Germany did at Wembley, which might encourage an extra attacker. Not playing 3-4-3 could send a dangerous message that Andriy Shevchenko’s side can be taken more lightly.

One possible complication Southgate says is no dilemma at all is the yellow cards which mean if Maguire, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips or Phil Foden get booked tonight, they will miss the semi-final. Keep their noses clean and there will be no such threat hanging over them in the last four.

Southgate insists it will not come into his thinking with so much at stake. It is another sign he is not getting complacent.

In game five of an arduous tournament, there could be the temptation to try to rest people because so many of England’s substitutes are of virtually identical quality to the starters, and extra freshness could tip the balance their way.

Southgate clearly values Jordan Henderson and Phillips has not missed a minute of the tournament, Rice only 45. Foden, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho are different forward options, not lesser ones.

Whoever plays, they have to be at full throttle.

“We’ve achieved one challenge but that’s not the Everest we set ourselves,” stressed Southgate.

“I think it’s good to come away from Wembley now. To have a different focus, different surroundings is good for us.”

If that sounds like spin-doctoring, it probably is. But getting his players into the right place mentally at Wembley on Tuesday was so crucial to winning a match which, historically, the Three Lions do not.

Striking the right psychological balance will be just as important this evening. If England think they have done the hard part, they will be put brutally right.