Proud England boss Gareth Southgate has admitted his players at ‘a bit of a disadvantage’, ahead of the nation’s first ever European Championship final on Sunday at Wembley.
The Three Lions will take on Italy in the weekend’s showpiece, as they look to secure just a second major honour after having claimed the World Cup back in 1966, that win having also memorably been on home soil.
Southgate’s men confirmed their place in that historic final with a nervy win over surprise package Denmark on Wednesday, recovering from an early Mikkel Damsgaard free-kick to run out 2-1 winners in extra-time, captain Harry Kane netting a rebounded penalty to complete the comeback.
While a far from comfortable triumph, England have no doubt enjoyed a relatively smooth ride thus far, their cautious yet clinical approach seeing them comfortably progress out of the group stages, before seeing off Germany, Ukraine and the Danes in the knockout phase.
With Roberto Mancini’s side to come in Sunday’s much anticipated final, Southgate discussed how he has looked to keep his side fresh throughout the tournament with his side at a slight ‘disadvantage’ given their 24 hours less time to recover than their opponents, who edged past Spain on penalties on Tuesday evening.
“It is definitely a bit of a disadvantage but we have to find the best way of dealing with that,” said Southgate at a press conference.
“I think the biggest thing is psychological fatigue. The players are fit and we’re very professional. We don’t overload the players, we’ve been conscious of that going back years.
“When they are with us, we can’t improve them physically so we don’t overtrain and we keep that freshness.
“We have minimal injuries in our camps – muscular injuries are very rare. But psychological freshness is the key. You can talk about fatigue, you can talk about the season, but to get the physical training right and psychological freshness right is key to creating the energy that is needed.”
The 50-year-old also spoke of his pride at leading out his country in front of home support, with the former Middlesbrough boss having been visibly jubilant and somewhat emotional in front of the crowd following the win over Kasper Hjulmand’s side.
Gareth Southgate, a man everyone in England owes a massive apology, what a job he's done 👏 pic.twitter.com/BEiFC8Sc06
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) July 8, 2021
“To be able to hear Wembley like it was and to know how that will have been around the country is an honour,” Southgate said. “Because we’re a special country, we are historically an incredible country and I know I couldn’t be prouder to be an Englishman. I can’t be prouder to have the opportunity to lead my country so to bring happiness at this time where it’s been so difficult is a very special feeling.
“I’m not embarrassed about losing my head a little bit in that moment [after the match]. Once you step off the pitch you know you’re into preparing for the next game and everything that goes with that so to be able to have that moment on the pitch with the fans is for me always the most special part.”
One impressive factor in England’s semi-final triumph was their game management in the closing stages – albeit with the opposition reduced to ten men due to a Mathias Jense injury – with Southgate admitting that it is an area they have worked on in recent years and can still improve upon.
“The players have learned a lot over the last three or four years, we talked to them about that [running down the clock],” Southgate said. “We used to talk to the under-21s about that – it was one of the biggest areas we had to improve upon – and we still can be better at it. But the players had worked it out and they did that really well. We have got the technicians to be able to do it.”