Belfast Telegraph

Young England stars can make history, insists Southgate


By Adrian Rutherford

Gareth Southgate has urged England to keep making history as they stand on the brink of their first World Cup semi-final for almost 30 years.

They face Sweden in Samara this afternoon for a place in the last four.

After all the disappointments of recent tournaments, there is a growing expectation around what the team can achieve.

Southgate said their journey so far - including the dramatic penalty shootout win against Colombia - has fuelled belief among his young side.

"We came into this tournament as the least experienced team, we are one of the youngest teams in it, but we said that we're an improving side who want to make our own history," he said.

"We've already had our first knockout win in more than 10 years, our first win in a penalty shootout at the World Cup, the highest number of goals scored in an individual game and we want to keep making that history.

"We know that it's not since 1990 that we were in a World Cup semi-final.

"We are hugely ambitious and want to do that, but we know that there is nothing in our mind other than tomorrow's game."

England face Sweden at 3pm at the 45,000-capacity Samara Arena.

The squad arrived in Samara — Russia’s sixth largest city, around 650 miles south-east of Moscow — yesterday afternoon.

A win would secure a first World Cup semi-final since 1990 against either Croatia or Russia.

But Southgate expects a difficult test against a Swedish side that beat France and Italy en route to qualifying for the World Cup.

They also qualified from their group in Russia ahead of defending champions Germany.

Southgate added: “They are a very strong team.

“I’ve been involved in matches against Sweden many times and the team always has a very strong identify and better players than people sometimes give them credit for.

“This team is the same, you only have to look at their results — in the qualifying beating France, and in the play-off beating Italy, and in this tournament knocking out Germany.

“So they are obviously a very strong side and one we will have to play well against to beat.”

England’s only injury concern centres around the fitness of Jamie Vardy.

The Leicester striker suffered a groin strain after coming on as a substitute against Colombia. He took part in a warm-up yesterday but missed the full training session.

Southgate added: “He completed what we hoped he would but slightly separate to the team, so we’ll just check if there is any reaction to that.”

Meanwhile, Sven-Goran Eriksson, who guided England to successive World Cup quarter-finals in 2002 and 2006 before resigning said the Three Lions are benefiting from playing without “enormous pressure” and can go all the way and win the World Cup if they beat Sweden.

Swede Eriksson argued: “Before my time, during my time and a little bit after my time, it was like you had to reach the final. That has changed.”

Eriksson also took England to the quarter-finals of Euro 2004 but was criticised after his 67-match reign ended in defeat by Portugal at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

The former Manchester City boss, who managed Ivory Coast at the 2010 World Cup, said the lack of pressure on England in Russia is helping Gareth Southgate’s side. “That’s good for the team because you can go out and play more relaxed,” he added.

“England are a good team, a young team and a hungry team. I think England and the fans are happy now because they are in the quarter-finals.”

Southgate’s team have beaten Tunisia, Panama and Colombia to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since Eriksson was boss.

If they beat Sweden in Samara, they will be in the semi-finals for the first time since 1990.

Belfast Telegraph


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