England manager Gareth Southgate is determined to win the European Championship for the entire nation after their “spirit, commitment and pride” was recognised by the Queen ahead of the game of their lives.
The country will come to a standstill when the Three Lions walk out at a rocking Wembley against Italy in the Euro 2020 final on Sunday and attempt to follow in the footsteps of the World Cup heroes of 1966.
England’s second major tournament final offers an unforgettable opportunity for Southgate and his players as they look to end the 55-year wait for a trophy by lifting a first European Championship crown.
The Queen wished the Three Lions well on the eve of the final, recalling presenting the Jules Rimet trophy to victorious skipper Bobby Moore before paying tribute to this group’s “spirit, commitment and pride”.
“It’s been fantastic to have a letter from the Queen, a letter from the Prime Minister to all of the team and the recognition that the players and all of the staff have gone about this in the right way,” Southgate said.
“We had a fabulous reception when we left St George’s. All the local villages had come out, lining the route. People pulled over in lay-bys so you got more of a sense of what’s gone on outside of the bubble that we’ve been in.
“But it always comes back to tomorrow. We’re in a final and we’re here to win.
“It’s important how we’ve represented people and we’re pleased that legacy has been there but now we want to go and win the trophy for everybody.”
England were waved off by staff as they left their St George’s Park training base for the final time on Saturday afternoon, and were greeted by hundreds – if not thousands – of well-wishers on the route south.
Fans were at The Grove hotel to greet them on the eve of the showdown against Italy, when Southgate is looking to make sure football comes home rather than heads to Rome.
“Football’s coming home” has led to accusations of arrogance down the years, but Southgate has grown to love the song released for Euro 96 – a tournament that ended with his crucial missed semi-final penalty against Germany.
It’s important how we’ve represented people and we’re pleased that legacy has been there but now we want to go and win the trophy for everybody.Gareth Southgate
“I didn’t want to listen to it for 15 years because it was too painful for me,” the England boss said with a smile.
“You have to know the English to understand our humour and our humour is probably quite unique, but it’s certainly not arrogant.
“The lyrics are making fun of ourselves, really, and the things that have gone wrong.
“It has always appeared now at the tournaments. We’ve got a couple of replacements that have seen to have come in now in terms of songs as well which is nice to keep moving things forward.
“The atmosphere in the ground has been great.
“When we started three, four years ago we had people throwing paper airplanes, they weren’t behind the team, there was an apathy towards the team.
“Now, the energy in the stadium is fantastic and that’s so important for the players.
“They need to feel that, they need that warmth, that support and it’s definitely helped inspire us during this tournament.”
The roar of a partisan 65,000-plus crowd at Wembley will boost England on Sunday against an Italy side undefeated in an eye-watering 33 matches.
Southgate is full of admiration for Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri and urged supporters not to boo the Italian national anthem as it will have an adverse effect.
“It’s important that our fans always respect the opposition,” he added.
“We know that in actual fact when we play abroad and fans boo our anthem it probably inspires us even more.
“I don’t think it will help the team. I think we can intimidate the team with the booing during the game, but it’s different for the anthem. I think we should be respectful.
“Of course there are fantastic players all through the Italian team. They have a good tactical plan, experienced coach and an amazing record over the last 30 games, so we’re very aware of that.”