Belfast Telegraph

Ashley Young not getting carried away as England focus on World Cup semi-final

The Manchester United full-back is enjoying his time in Russia.

Birthday boy Ashley Young is hoping to end the holiday of a lifetime with a World Cup winners’ medal.

England have not only talked the talk in Russia but walked the walk, leaving Gareth Southgate’s men preparing to face Croatia on Wednesday for a place in Sunday’s Luzhniki Stadium finale.

The Three Lions’ journey to their first World Cup semi-final in 28 years has captivated a nation and is born of the group’s unique bond.

Togetherness has been a buzzword throughout the tournament, where remote Repino – a small tourist town 29 miles north-west of St Petersburg – has become the unlikely base for England’s quiet revolution.

“I think not just the players but the staff behind the scenes, making the hotel feel like you are at home – pictures of family in rooms, things to do in the hotel,” said Young, who missed a penalty in the quarter-final shootout defeat to Italy at Euro 2012.

“If you said to any player that we were going to be together for seven weeks, there was a lot of talk of being bored, but it’s not like that at all.

“It’s felt like a good holiday we’ve been on, and we’re enjoying every moment of it. No boredom at all.

“Everyone gets on well and if you’ve got that off the pitch you can take that onto the pitch. Fans, staff, players, everyone can see how well we click together.”

There is a spirit among a squad low in terms of international experience but brimming with confidence and potential.

Young is the oldest member of Southgate’s group and turned 33 on Monday, but the celebrations are on hold – just as they were after the comfortable 2-0 quarter-final win against Sweden.

“We haven’t won anything yet so there’s no point in celebrating,” the attack-minded left-back said.

“It was nice to get the victory but I think the celebrations were muted because there’s still big games to come up.

“There’s still a lot to play for. I’ve said all along that the team spirit we have got here has been fantastic and I think you see that in the way we celebrate after a game.

“We get ourselves back to the hotel, recover, prepare the right way and go for the next game.”

Young believes England have a “great chance” to go on and win the World Cup this week, but there is little chance of Southgate’s men taking semi-final opponents Croatia lightly.

“I think it is one of them things as a kid that you always dream of playing in a World Cup and you dream of winning the World Cup,” the Manchester United man said.

“But we are not going to get too far ahead of ourselves and get carried away.

“The boys’ feet are on the ground and everyone is pulling in the same way.

“We have just got to prepare in the same way as we have for all other games. It’s another game coming up and that is how we have got to see it.

“Croatia are a very good team. They are not in the semi-final for no reason. Obviously, we’ve got to be prepared for them.

“They have the likes of Luka Modric in the team – he’s a fantastic player – but they have other players around the squad that are going to be difficult opponents.

“But we can’t concentrate on them. We’ve got to concentrate on ourselves and that is what we will be doing going into the game.”

Young brushed aside talk of England having more support on Wednesday, but spoke openly about the impact that being taken to extra time and penalties in both knockout games, against Denmark and Russia, could have on Croatia.

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Croatia’s Danijel Subasic saved a penalty from Russia’s Fyodor Smolov in the quarter-final shootout (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

“I think, especially physically, it is demanding on the body to go 120 minutes in a game and then obviously you’ve got to fly back as well to base,” he said.

“We felt that and now they have done twice so it could play a major advantage.

“But we know it is going to be a tough game and we’ve got be mentally and physically prepared for what they bring and will throw at us.”

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