Belfast Telegraph

My young team is maturing in front of our eyes, says ‘proud’ Southgate

The manager has guided England to the World Cup semi-finals for only the third time.

Gareth Southgate told England’s World Cup heroes to grab their chance at glory after reaching the semi-finals for the first time since 1990.

The fantasy of replicating the 1966 triumph in Russia is a step closer to becoming reality after the Three Lions followed their gritty display against Colombia with a comfortable 2-0 quarter-final win over Sweden.

Headers from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli either side of half-time did the damage in Samara as England secured just their third ever World Cup semi-final, sending fans far and wild into dreamland.

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England manager Gareth Southgate (right) congratulates goalscorer Dele Alli (Tim Goode/PA)

Croatia lie in wait at the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday, with manager Southgate telling his players to seize this opportunity of a generation.

“It’s an incredible privilege to be the England manager anyway,” the former defender said.

“To be able to take the team this far, knowing the people who have done it in the past – not just World Cups, with Terry (Venables) and Don (Howe) in the European Championship as well – who I have incredible respect for and hold in such high esteem, I feel privileged to be in this position.

“We spoke to the players today – none of us fancied going home.

“We have got to be here for another week (as there is the third-placed play-off) so it’s up to us now which games we play in.

“I’m so, so proud of what all of the players and all of the staff have done because we’ve got to this point because the collective has been so strong.

“We played an opponent today whose identity is clear and whose togetherness has at times been too much for us to handle over the years.

“To come on the back of a game where we had to go to the very depths emotionally and physically in midweek and be able to give what we gave today – control the game, but also withstand the physical test – was a real sign of resilience for a young team, who I think are really maturing in front of our eyes.”

Southgate feels privileged to “connect everyone through football” and hopes to keep the party going back home.

Humility, togetherness and no little skill have inspired England to this point, with the manager thanking the families of this group, his staff as well as the players to miss out on the squad.

Former Three Lions boss Roy Hodgson was also praised for being “brave enough” to put young players in at Euro 2016 and help the country kick on to reach the World Cup semi-finals.

“It would fairly easily be the best day of my coaching (career),” said Southgate, who would like to celebrate with a pint of bitter if he can find one.

“Of course, when you sit and think about the people who’ve got to this point before, people I hugely respect and admire, it’s difficult to put that into perspective, really.

“But we just want to keep improving as a team of coaches, as a team of staff, a team of players.

“I go back to the fact that it isn’t about me, it’s about the whole group.

“To be in charge of a group of people who give as much energy and give me as much as they have over this period of time, committed to so much, is very special.

“It’s great to see all of the players sat with their families out there because they feel like they’ve been part of this in the last few weeks as well.

“Without the commitment of a couple of wives who have let their husbands come back having given birth – I hope they all feel really part of this now because we don’t do that without everybody‘s support.

“Of course, we’re feeling the energy and warmth from home as well, which I think for a lot of the players hasn’t been their experience with England. I am so pleased that they can see (that).

“Probably 18 months ago, I talked to them about, ‘If you have success with England, it will be so much bigger than anything you can imagine with your clubs’.

“I think that is probably starting to register with them now – maybe I tell the truth most of the time.”

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