Gareth Southgate’s England stand on the verge of history at the European Championships

England stand on the verge of footballing history after their 4-0 European Championship win over Ukraine, and manager Gareth Southgate says the tough times they have experienced will help them through it.

Two goals from Harry Kane and one each for Jordan Henderson and Sheffield’s Harry Maguire saw the Three Lions set up a Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday.

Beaten in the last four in 1968 and 1996, England have never reached the final of the competition. Like the semi-final, it will be played at Wembley in a tournament which is spread across 11 countries. England’s only major tournament final was in the 1966 World Cup.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It would be another moment of history for Harrogate-based former Middlesbrough manager Southgate, who having been part of the 1996 team has since led his country to semi-finals at the 2018 World Cup and 2019’s inaugural Nations League.

Sheffield-born Harry Maguire wheels away in celebration, with fellow goalscorer Harry Kane in the background, after doubling England’s lead with a thumping header in the quarter-final rout of the Ukraine in Rome. (Picture: AP/Alessandra Tarantino)

Both those games ended in disappointment, and that will help England in front of a partisan 60,000 crowd on Wednesday, according to Southgate.

“Teams have to go on a bit of a journey and go through some pain sometimes to be able to progress,” argued the former central defender who has now won more World Cup/European Championship knockout games than any of his predecessors.

“We’ve had some great nights over the last four years but we’ve also had some painful nights and we’ve learned from all of those experiences.

“That’s definitely helped us prepare for another tournament and the individual games, the understanding of each other, how we want to play and the recognition that in moments like Saturday we didn’t want to take a backward step, we wanted to grasp the opportunity rather than hope we might win or let fate have a chance to play its part.

England manager Gareth Southgate applauds the fans after the UEFA Euro 2020 quarter-final match at the Stadio Olimpico, Rome. (Picture: PA)

“I thought the players were decisive and ruthless all night.”

The team that emphatically saw off Ukraine featured Yorkshiremen Maguire and Kalvin Phillips, who avoided yellow cards that would have seen them suspended on Wednesday, Kyle Walker, John Stones and substitute Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Jordan Pickford had a loan at Bradford City earlier in his career, as substitute Kieran Trippier did with Barnsley.

The Danes, who started the tournament with two defeats and midfielder Christian Eriksen collapsing on the field in a cardiac arrest, played England twice in last season’s Nations League, winning and drawing, so for all the euphoria Saturday’s win and last Tuesday’s over old rivals Germany in the round of 16 generated, another victory is far from a foregone conclusion.

“We had two games with Denmark in the autumn and I knew what a good side they were before,” cautioned Southgate. “They’ve proved that again in this tournament. They’re obviously riding a wave of emotion after what happened with Christian as well and that’s understandable.

England fans in the stands during the UEFA Euro 2020 quarter-final match at the Stadio Olimpico, Rome. (Picture: PA)

“We have got more experience as a group of these sort of games and individually the players have got that experience, which is definitely helpful, but we’ve got to do that now on Wednesday night.”

Southgate, whose team have not conceded in five matches at the tournament, took huge pride from the way his team is lifting national morale, as they did at the World Cup three years ago.

“I’m conscious it’s not just our country that’s been through so much difficulty but we’ve also had so much division for a while and I know these England nights bring everybody together – communities, families – so to give them so much enjoyment over the last two matches in particular, and to have (the public) with hope looking forward is part of the privilege of being in the job,” he said.

“When I look at the people who are in that list of England managers – Sir Bobby (Robson), Sir Alf (Ramsey) and so many who have gone before – it’s an absolute honour to be in that company. I know how high I hold them in esteem so it’s lovely to be able to get the results that are putting our country on the football map again.”

England's Harry Kane celebrates after scoring his side's third goal against Ukraine. (Alessandro Garofalo/Pool Via AP)

Comment and analysis:
Pages 2, 3 and 10