The squad and supporters came together at the end of the semi-finals to celebrate in song
Gareth Southgate says the “streetwise” nature of his team was one the elements he was most proud of in the 2-1 Euro 2020semi-final win over Denmark, as he hailed the celebrations with fans afterwards as one of the most “special” moments of his career.
The England manager has long been focused on eliminating what he describes as “the slow death” of many of the country’s eliminations down the years, where they would increasingly cede possession and territory in tournament knock-outs. It was why the possession at the end of the Denmark game so enthused him – as such maturity will be especially important against a team as canny as Italy.
“I think the players have learned a lot over the last three or four years, we talked to them about that, we used to talk to the Under-21s about that – it was one of the biggest areas we had to improve upon – and we still can be better at it because the first five minutes of that second half of extra-time, we had the man advantage and didn’t really keep the ball well enough. There were opportunities to keep the ball far better than we did,” he said.
“But we’d worked it out and the players had worked it out, they did that really well and we have got the technicians to be able to do it. We weren’t perfect, I think we deserved the win on the amount of chances we created and some of the attacking play, but I guess it was never going to be perfect with so much at stake.
“In terms of Italy, I think what Roberto [Mancini] has done and the way they’ve played the last couple of years, the record speaks for itself in terms of the wins, the small number of goals conceded. The style of play has been exceptional.”
The 2-1 win ensured Southgate became just the second England manager in history to lead the country to an international final, and emotion overcame him at the end as he fist-pumped the air joy in front of the fans.
“I’ve always had that sort of relationship with the fans at the clubs I was at. I suppose it was everybody’s emotion. I knew how much that would mean to everybody to be able to be here tonight. The crowd were incredible in giving us that energy throughout the game and, yes, it was a special moment for all of us. So I’m not embarrassed about losing my head a little bit in that moment.
“Once you step off the pitch, you know you’re into preparing for the next game and everything that goes with that so to be able to have that moment on the pitch with the fans is for me is always the most special part.
“I guess for me [the reaction] hasn’t really totally registered because I’m not reading those front pages and I’m not tuning into those bulletins, but I’m noticing the journey to the stadium today the tooting of the horns, the flags on the cars, that so I’m starting to get a feel of exactly what’s going on and I suppose in the back of my mind I know what’s going on, but I’ve tried to put it to one side really and keep focused on what we’re doing. But to be able to hear Wembley like it was tonight and to know how that will have been around the country is, yes, it’s an honour. Because we’re a special country, we are historically an incredible country and I know I couldn’t be prouder to be an Englishman. I can’t be prouder to have the opportunity to lead my country so to bring happiness at this time where it’s been so difficult for this period is a very special feeling.”