KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Manager Gareth Southgate has tried to calm the euphoria building up after England secured a Wembley semi-final against Denmark in Euro 2020 by sweeping aside Ukraine in Rome on Saturday.
The emphatic 4-0 victory was England’s only ‘away’ match in the tournament after playing their three group games at Wembley as well as the round of 16 tie against Germany which had been scheduled originally for Dublin.
The goals came from captain Harry Kane (two), Harry Maguire and substitute Jordan Henderson – his first in 62 internationals.
Kane’s goals moved him one behind Gary Lineker’s record of 10 tournament goals. England’s revived captain was among only three survivors from the England team who fell ignominiously to Iceland at the 2016 Euro.
That was just over one year before Southgate was promoted from within the FA to rebuild both the team and its fractured relationship with fans and the nation.
Now he is only the second manager to lead England to successive semi-finals in World Cup and European Championship after Sir Alf Ramsey back in 1966 and 1968.
An England record run of seven clean sheets has helped Southgate earn widespread admiration for his tactics, man management and ability to capture the mood of the nation.
The headline-grabbing delight which swept England was not only a celebration of a football result but expression of pent-up emotion after the personal tragedies and unprecedented restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The UK has suffered 128,000 deaths, roughly the same as Italy, over the past 16 months.
Southgate said: “We’ve had some great nights over the last four years but we’ve also had some painful nights and we’ve learned from all of those experiences. We didn’t want to take a backward step. We wanted to grasp the opportunity.”
England did that by scoring in the opening minutes of both the first and second halves.
However they should guard against complacency. Some sloppy defending almost allowed Ukraine back into the game in the first half. Also this was a Ukraine team weakened by the injuries and fatigue suffered in their round of 16 extra-time defeat of Sweden.
Denmark won 1-0 at Wembley last October in the UEFA Nations League with a Christian Eriksen penalty. England’s frustration at failing to break them down was reflected in red cards for Maguire and Reece James.
Southgate cautioned: “Denmark are riding a wave of emotion after what happened with Christian and that’s understandable. It’s going to be a fantastic game to be a part of. We have got more experience now of these sorts of games but we still have a long way to go and we are not satisfied.”
As for the reaction back home, Southgate added: “It’s lovely to send everyone home happy on a Saturday night, they should enjoy it. I am conscious it is not just our country that has been through difficulty but we have also had a lot of division for a little while.
“I know these England nights bring everybody together.”
Maguire echoed Southgate’s call for focus. The Manchester United defender said: “Back-to-back semi-finals at a major tournament is a great achievement but – and I don’t want to spoil the party – but we have another even bigger game coming up and we want to go further this time than we did at the World Cup. This group of players aren’t settling for a semi-final.”
The new dilemma for Southgate is whether to maintain the 4-3-3 formation deployed against Ukraine or revert to 3-4-3 to match the Danish tactical shape. It worked well against Germany so Southgate should not have any worries about a repeat.