Shropshire Star

Gareth Southgate: England must be ‘exceptional’ against Spain to win Euro 2024

England will play their first overseas final when they meet Spain in Berlin on Sunday.

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Gareth Southgate says England must be “exceptional” in and out of possession if their first final on foreign soil is to end in Euro 2024 glory against team of the tournament Spain.

A summer that began with unconvincing displays, fan discontent and widespread criticism will end with a shot at history in Sunday’s Berlin showpiece at the Olympiastadion.

England secured a final showdown against Spain thanks to super sub Ollie Watkins’ stunning strike at the death against Netherlands, sealing a 2-1 win and sparking bedlam across the land.

This is the first time an English men’s team has made it to a major final overseas and a second successive continental final for a side that lost on penalties to Italy at the end of the last edition.

Spain are sure to pose an almighty challenge and Southgate knows England will have to be at their absolute best against an in-form side who have had an extra day to prepare if they are to join the 1966 World Cup team in immortality.

Asked if facing offensive, possession-focused teams suits England better than defensive outfits, the manager said with a smile: “Well, we have to get the ball off them first!

“It’s not as simple as us having the ball and making them run. I mean, they press very, very well, so we’re going to have to be exceptional with the ball, and we’re going to have to be exceptional without it.

“But it’s a final, you expect it to be that way. They’ve been the best team. We’re starting to show a better version of ourselves.

Spain celebrate reaching the Euro 2024 final after beating France
Spain celebrate reaching the Euro 2024 final after beating France (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“The extra day is a concern. You know, in the last few tournaments that’s been a problem for finalists, so we’ve got to do the very best we can to recover the players as well as we can.

“But we’re not going to be on the training ground. That’s simple. We’ll be walking through things or delivering things in meetings, which was the same for this game.

“But we’re in there and with what we’ve shown to this point we have as good a chance as they do.”

Spain are the bookmakers’ favourites to triumph in Berlin, where Southgate will attempt to mastermind England men’s first continental crown having fallen agonisingly short in the Euro 2020 final.

England players look on as Italy celebrate winning the Euro 2020 final on penalties
England players look on as Italy celebrate winning the Euro 2020 final on penalties (Mike Egerton/PA)

England’s squad has a new look to it nowadays but the core from the Italy defeat remains, with Southgate utilising that experience as the group quickly refocuses on Spain.

“The lads are singing in the dressing room, but they’re straight in the ice,” he said with a laugh after the Signal Iduna Park semi-final.

“There won’t be any wild parties. We’ve had a couple of those already, so we pick our moments for those.

“But in terms of the experience, of course every game you manage, every tournament you manage, you learn so much.

“When I took this job I’d had three years as a Premier League manager. I’ve now had 100 internationals, some of the biggest games in world football. You learn all the time from that.

“We’re more calm going into the knockout games because the first time we did it in Russia (at the 2018 World Cup) we hadn’t won a knockout game for 10 years.

“We hadn’t been through the experience – quarter-finals, semi-finals, you know, we’ve managed a lot of those games now, so you’re definitely much better prepared because every experience you go through you learn from.

“You’re improving all the time, your knowledge, your understanding, so I would say if you’re a coach and you’re not doing that there’d be a problem, really.

“But the last final was the first final, first European Championship final, I’d ever managed, so if I didn’t get everything right apologies for that but we’ll try and do better this week.”

England returned to their Blankenhain base after Wednesday’s Dortmund triumph to rest, recover and refocus on their toughest test yet.

Southgate said Harry Kane “took quite a big knock when he won the penalty” he converted shortly after Xavi Simons slammed the Dutch ahead, but played on until Watkins replaced him in the 81st minute.

The England manager also said full-back Kieran Trippier “had a little bit of a problem”, leading them to expedite the decision to bring on Luke Shaw at half-time.

England’s Luke Shaw (left) and Kieran Trippier celebrate after the semi-final win over the Netherlands
Kieran Trippier (right) was replaced by Luke Shaw at half-time against the Netherlands (Nick Potts/PA)

Southgate hopes Trippier “could be OK” for Sunday, adding: “We didn’t want to take any chances and we had it in our minds that bringing Luke into the game with that balance at some point.

“We’re still deciding how long he could play for, but we felt to be able to bring him into the game and finish with that balance was better than to start it and then have to take him off.

“We’ll have to see how our Tripps is but, I mean, he’s been an absolute soldier for us.

“To fill in the way he has and produce the level of performance on the wrong side of the pitch with the injuries he came into the tournament with as well has been absolutely phenomenal.”

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