Gareth Southgate insists England have learned a great deal from their failures and near misses, preparing them for the UEFA EURO 2020 Final against Italy. ‘We’ve got to stay calm.’
It kicks off on Sunday at 20.00 UK time at Wembley Stadium.
“It’s been fantastic to have a letter from the Queen and the Prime Minister to all of the team, and recognition that the players and staff have gone around this the right way,” said the manager in his press conference.
The squad was given a great send-off by fans as they left their training camp for the final time to prepare for tomorrow’s game.
“You got a sense of what’s going on outside the bubble, but it all comes down to tomorrow. We’re in the Final and we’re here to win.”
“We’re pleased that legacy has been there, but now we want to go and bring the trophy home for everybody. We’ve prepared the same way for all our evening kick-offs, but all our preparation for the knockout matches has been the same. No matter what the game, you need that consistency. Everybody’s looking forward to it.”
This is the first major tournament Final England have played since winning the 1966 World Cup, which was also at Wembley.
“The near misses, the tournaments that haven’t gone so well were important for this team. Over the last four years they’ve knocked down so many barriers, come through so many challenges, different ways to win matches, coming back from behind, going through extra time and penalty shoot-outs. Their resilience and experiences as a team have really prepared them well for this moment.”
Gary Lineker has urged England fans not to boo the Italian national anthem, especially after the FA was fined, and Southgate joins the appeal.
“Of course, it’s important that our fans always respect the opposition. When we play abroad and fans boo our anthem, it probably inspires us even more, so I don’t think it’ll help. We can boo during the game, but in the anthem it’s important to be respectful.”
The refrain ‘Football’s Coming Home’ is seen as arrogance outside of England, for those who only perhaps listen to the chorus and not the full song.
“I didn’t want to listen to it for 15 years because it was too painful for me! You have to understand the English humour, which is quite unique, but certainly not arrogant. The lyrics are making fun of ourselves and the things that have gone wrong.
“The atmosphere in the ground has been great, when we started three or four years ago, there were people throwing paper airplanes. There was an apathy towards the team, but the energy now is fantastic, that warmth and support definitely helped inspire us during the tournament.
“We’re very calm, we’ve got a lot of belief in this group of players and we’ve grown into this tournament. The first objective was to qualify from the group and we stayed calm after the Scotland game, when there was criticism and you can adopt a siege mentality, but we were determined not to do that. We were consistent about the way we did our work and from there it’s been opportunities to make history every time we played.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge. It’s a brilliant game to be involved in and to prepare for. Italy are a fine opponent, they’re tactically very good and are on a tremendous run.”
The midfield could end up being decisive, as it is where Italy’s greatest strength lies with Jorginho, Nicolò Barella and Marco Verratti.
“You have to decide the most important information for the players, not flood them with too much, try to adapt the game to our strengths, highlight potential weaknesses in the opponent.
“There are fantastic players throughout the Italian team, a good tactical plan, an experienced coach and an amazing record over the last 30 games. We’re very aware of that.
“Our midfield players have already played against Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and had to adapt to these midfield players with great European experience. We have our own strengths and our own style of play, that’s the beauty of football, that every team has different strengths.
“The key in finals is to hit your normal level, as lots of teams end up under-performing. It’s about doing what you’re good at, our players know that’s our ethos, there are some here who’ve played in Champions League Finals and played in World Cup semi-finals.
“This is a different opponent, a different tactical challenge and we’ve got to prepare properly for that. No matter what happens in the game, the team knows they’re going to work together and in moments when you have to suffer a bit as a team, we have forwards who defend from the front and realise the importance of that in the modern game.
“It could be 95 minutes, it could be 120, we have to be ready for however long it takes. The atmosphere around you is intense, but we’ve got to stay calm.”
While the English media has for days been calling for a Bank Holiday on Monday if England win, Southgate is not going to get ahead of himself.
“At the back of your mind, you have to have a bit of a vision of how you’d see the end, but the reality is you have to focus on the performance and that’s what we’ve always done. It’s important that the players understand that, and whatever path the game takes, they are prepared.
“It’s pointless if you start talking about what happens after the end when the game is still going, you’re probably heading in the wrong direction.”