Gareth Southgate proud of his side’s World Cup showing
England boss believes lack of experience of making big decisions proved costly
England manager Gareth Southgate hugs England skipper Harry Kane after the World Cup semi-final defeat to Croatia in Moscow. Photograph: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images
Roberto Martinez put a braver face on it after Belgium’s defeat, claiming that a win this weekend would be still be important but Gareth Southgate admits that he could do without Saturday’s third place playoff in St Petersburg.
The England manager insists, however, that his players will pick themselves up and perform with pride one last time before heading home from a World Cup that he hopes will come, over time, to be regarded as a stepping stone to greater things.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the team,” said the predictably subdued 47-year-old as he reflected on a semi-final in which, he admitted, Croatia’s better decision making had ultimately been a major factor.
“Mentally, their understanding of big matches, of making big decisions, that came to the fore. They [his players] have to go through big match experiences in order to become a team that can win. I think if you look at a lot of other sides that have won, they have maybe started by getting to a quarter, a semi or a final but not quite got over the line.
“I think it’s clear to everyone the progress that’s been made in terms of the level of the performance and the togetherness of the group. And every group has to go through the process of getting better.”
Pressed to expand on the wider positives, the manager proved reluctant, suggesting that he and his players would have to “suffer over the result” for a little while and not “move on too quickly” but, he acknowledged, England had exceeded the expectations that accompanied them to Russia and now need to deliver on the new ones that they have created for themselves.
“We will try to get the balance right,” he said. “Of recognising that tonight was a wonderful opportunity for us, and of accepting that you can’t guarantee that that chance will come again. But we want to be a team that is regularly hitting quarter-finals and semi-finals and I think we have proven to our supporters now that that is possible . . . we have proven to ourselves that it is possible. Hopefully we have set ourselves a new benchmark.
“We are not the finished article,” he continued. “Against the very best teams we haven’t managed to get the wins but we have won a lot of matches that historically England haven’t won. Tonight, given the possession we had early on, you would probably be hoping for another goal, but then we did very well, I thought, to withstand a bit of an onslaught.
“Extra time was more even, I think we probably edged it and though I’d have to look back over it, I suspect our chances were as good as theirs over the course of the game.
“Croatia are an excellent team, though, with some outstanding players. We thought that were doing well enough to at least take the game beyond extra time – but you have to give great credit to them for the way they went on to win the game. Physically, we lost [Kieran] Trippier towards the end but there were others who had given everything and had run out of steam.”
His opposite number, Zlatko Dalic, was not quite so diplomatic in victory with the 51-year-old making little attempt to conceal his huge pride at a country so small making it to a World Cup final.
Dalic recalled being in France in 1998 for the group stages but having to return home before the Croats were beaten at the semi-final stage by the hosts.
“Maybe the good lord is giving us the chance to settle the score,” he said with a smile before observing with rather less humour that: “Those experts who said England would progress to the final tonight were not experts at all. If they were, they’d have known that Croatia was the better team and we’ve shown it.”