LONDON: Twenty-five years on from the penalty miss that cast a shadow over his playing career, England manager Gareth Southgate has a shot at redemption and revenge against Germany. Euro 2020’s blockbuster last 16 clash comes much earlier in the tournament than the Euro 96 semi-final between the pair when Southgate was the only one of 12 players unable to find the net from the spot.
But with a favorable route to the final for the victors and England enjoying home advantage at Wembley tomorrow and the semi-finals and final should they get there, the pressure is on Southgate to deliver. “I hope we can do it for him as well so he can get his own revenge,” said England midfielder Declan Rice.
Southgate himself has tried to get his England team to look forward not back, especially given the Three Lions’ record against Germany in major tournaments. Since lifting the World Cup in 1966, England have never won a knockout game against the four-time world champions, losing at the 1970, 1990 and 2010 World Cups on top of the pain of Euro 96. “There’s no point fearing the past,” Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford said this week. “You can’t go back and change it. What we can change is the result of the next game.”
Southgate already has so much credit in the bank with his employers that Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham told reporters on Friday he wants to extend his contract, which runs until after the 2022 World Cup, regardless of tomorrow’s result. An unexpected run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and Southgate’s impressive leadership on a series of off the field matters has earned the FA’s trust, but some of the public remain unconvinced.
Despite topping Group D with seven points from a possible nine, a return of just two goals from three games has not impressed the England fans on their return to Wembley. A 0-0 draw with Scotland was met with a chorus of boos, while social media has been littered with criticism of Southgate for being too conservative with such an array of attacking talent.
The use of two holding midfielders in Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips and the manager’s faith in Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling means there has only been two places available for Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount and Bukayo Saka to fight for.
Sancho’s limited involvement of just six minutes as a late substitute against the Czech Republic has baffled German observers, who have seen him develop into a player United are set to spend £85 million ($118 million) on during his four years in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund. “We just have so many good attacking players,” Southgate said in defense of Sancho’s lack of minutes. But that has so far not been borne out at a tournament England arrived at with far higher expectations than in Russia three years ago.
Southgate has reportedly been influenced by the manner in which Portugal won Euro 2016 and France lifted the World Cup three years ago where a solid defense built the foundation for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe to win games further forward. Rarely have England ever been so confident ahead of a meeting against Germany.
Joachim Loew’s men were six minutes away from exiting at the group stage for a second straight tournament before Leon Goretzka’s late strike snatched a 2-2 draw against Hungary. End his country’s and his personal hoodoo against Germany and Southgate will have a nation on his side once more. Defeat and five years of progress will quickly be forgotten. – AFP