Gareth Southgate: Bigger and better things ahead for England

England manager believes his young team can improve further in semi-finals

Fans celebrated on the streets of London as England booked their place in the semi-finals of the World Cup with a 2-0 win over Sweden. Video: Reuters

 

Gareth Southgate says that his young side is still learning on the job as they go forward to a World Cup semi-final and potentially the title decider in Moscow next Sunday. And the England manager believes that the players themselves are starting to believe in the extent of their own potential.

The 47-year-old was measured in his appraisal of England’s performance so far and their win over Sweden here in Samara, but he suggested that the squad might be rising to a challenge, the full scale of which is only dawning on them now.

“I talked to them 18 months ago and told them that if they had success with England, it could be so much bigger than anything they might achieve at their clubs. I think they’re beginning to believe that now,” Southgate said.

“We are having success because everyone is working hard on the pitch but we are a team that is still growing. We are not world class players yet but we have lots of good young players who have shown on a world stage that they want to play in the right way and have shown great mental resilience.

“To get a result like this on the back of game in which we had to dig deep into our reserves is a tremendous achievement. This is a young team but I think that it is maturing before our eyes. We have more, bigger games to come but they are going to get better.”

Sweden, he insisted, “made it so difficult. They broke the play up and we had to adapt the way we played because of that. We identified a couple of things that we thought that we could exploit today and the goals - as well as a couple of other chances - came from that.

“We probably should have opened them up and had another goal or two but then we end up being grateful to our goalkeeper.”

In fact, Southgate might have been pleasantly surprised by the relative ease with which England progressed but he said that all he knew beforehand was the squad was anxious to stick around a little while longer.

“I spoke to the players today and none of them fancied going home. We are here for another week now and it is up to us which of the remaining games we play in. We are in a World Cup semi-final, whether we are in the world’s top four as a team is something that we still have to establish.”

Whatever happens, he repeatedly suggested, however, he is proud of what has been already achieved and the way in which his team has achieved it.

“I don’t think that we have seen the likes of Maguire and Stones playing that way for England, centre backs getting on the ball and bringing it out but I came to the FA because I believed that it was possible.”

Janne Andersson, meanwhile, readily accepted that his side had no complaints after the defeat and said Jordan Pickford’s saves had prevented from Sweden getting themselves back into the game.

“(Marcus) Berg’s chance (the header just after half-time) was top notch but so too was the goalkeeper’s save that kept it out. Their ‘keeper made some other good saves too. You can’t do much more, so to speak. At some stage you have to accept that you are up against a good goalkeeper. Of course, I’d like to have seen a goal, Marcus would have liked if he had scored a goal but that’s the way it is.

“They,” he continued, “are a little reminiscent of us; that power and strength that they possess, even if they have a different style of play; they are difficult to play against, difficult to get through. Mr Southgate deserves great credit. I believe they could go all the way.”

As for Sweden, he said: “The first goal is always going to be important in a game like this. We had an excellent chance to make it 1-1 but look, we got to the quarter-finals. I think we will have to accept that were not good enough to beat our opponents today but we have had a bloody good tournament.”

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