Gareth Southgate has insisted that a semi-final isn’t enough for his confident England side, as they look to secure a place in a first major tournament final since 1966 on Wednesday night.
The Three Lions are currently preparing for their semi-final clash against an impressive Denmark side in midweek, having seen off Ukraine at the weekend to clinch just a first knockout win at the European Championship’s since beating Spain on penalties at Euro ’96.
That triumph over Andriy Shevchenko’s side also confirmed a third semi-final spot in three years for Southgate and his men, the 50-year-old having guided the nation to the last four at both the 2018 World Cup and the Nations League in 2019.
While progressing to such an advanced stage is undoubtedly something of an achievement for this young England side – who are also yet to concede in the competition – Southgate insisted that reaching the semi’s ‘won’t be enough’ for his squad, ahead of the clash with the Danes.
“I guess the interesting part for us is we won’t feel totally satisfied if it’s just a semi-final,” Southgate said at his pre-match press conference.
“Maybe three years ago, although there was massive disappointment after the semi-final, there was a feeling we’d come a long way. Now we’ve replicated what we did there, but that won’t be enough to fulfil the group. That’s a positive sign.”
Having suffered defeat against Croatia three years ago in Russia, the former Middlesbrough admitted that his side are ready for the ‘next step’, while he also emphasised the growing relationship between the supporters and the players.
“Our group are ready to get to the next step, they are excited by that challenge,” said Southgate. “They have got a mixture of being able to make themselves, I feel, relatable to the public, but they have got an edge. They don’t get through the last few weeks and the challenges that they have had and the challenges they have got through in the last 12 months as a team without having an edge or that mental toughness as well.
“Of course, in tournaments some of the games unfold in really peculiar ways. We’ve seen that with some of the other matches. But they will be prepared and they will be ready mentally, and we have got guys who have won trophies now and know what that has taken. But they have also gained confidence from that.
“The other thing that is so positive, these young players, 18, 19, 20, 21, they’re getting more experiences of England that are positive and enjoyable. They’re feeling what it can be like to be in an England shirt and have fun, and win matches and have a relationship with the fans that is positive. That’s so important for a generation to come. We’ll get more out of their talent if we can keep that relationship with the fans.”
That fan connection will undoubtedly be boosted by the news that there will be a crowd of up to 60,000 at Wembley for the semi’s, as well as the showpiece, something Southgate believes ‘can only be helpful’.
“To be coming back to Wembley is a great thing for us. It’s not for me to tell the fans how to be or what to be – they found a pretty good way of doing that in the last game.
“So just be as they’ve been really and in the end the responsibility is on us to play well and affect the emotions in the stadium. But, without a doubt, the two things fed off each other in the last game (against Germany). That can only be helpful for the team.”