Gareth Southgate has said that he is not motivated by the chance to erase the pain of his missed penalty against Germany at Euro 96 and has urged England’s players to make history at Wembley tomorrow night.
England’s manager insisted that he has not been thinking about being the fall guy when Terry Venables’ team suffered semi-final heartbreak 25 years ago and he is not looking to give the country closure by reaching the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 at Germany’s expense. Southgate, who is veering towards switching to a back three, does not believe that the tie is about his past and he wants his players to show bravery against Joachim Löw’s side.
“I can’t win this game,” Southgate said. “It will be the players who win it. It’s important the focus is on them. The opportunity is theirs. What happened to me has helped in many different areas of my life but it’s of no importance to this group of players and every time you play an opponent it’s about two sets of players.
“It’s about how well they prepared and how well they perform. There are always records in the Premier League of teams who haven’t won at certain grounds for 30 years but at some point that record gets broken. All those barriers are there to be knocked down in life and that’s the mentality we have got to have.”
Southgate took care to ensure the narrative does not become about him, pointing out his players are too young to care about the history between the two countries, and he stressed that he has not been thinking about his penalty since last Wednesday, when Germany progressed to face England by drawing with Hungary. There is a determination to focus on the next challenge. It does not bother Southgate that Andreas Köpke, the man who broke his heart in 1996, is Germany’s goalkeeping coach now.
“I totally understand why everybody asks the question,” he said. “My reaction was to get their game downloaded and watch them that night to learn exactly what we were preparing for. We were straight on to working through that tactical plan.
“I always want to win matches, give the country excitement and a warm feeling when they go to work the next morning. That’s the opportunity we’re blessed with. I can’t give closure on what’s happened in the past because I can’t give closure to the teammates I’ve played with. I’ve got an opportunity of doing something now, but the teammates I’ve played with are the ones I think about the most for that fixture.”
Although England go into the game as slight favourites, Southgate is not underestimating Germany. He is minded to match up to Germany’s 3-4-3 system and is expected to choose between Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka in attack. Kieran Trippier is competing with Reece James at right wing-back and Southgate must decide whether Mason Mount is ready to play after the end of his isolation.
Mount and Ben Chilwell have both been isolating since being deemed close contacts of Scotland’s Billy Gilmour, who tested positive for Covid last Monday, and have not been able to work on shape with the team in training. The pair have had to travel separately to Wembley to join their teammates.
“It is really complicated because there is the physical periodisation that you would want for a game like this,” Southgate said. “Then there is the tactical training and the meetings we have had when they have had to be in a separate room and dial in on Zoom. The whole experience is very difficult.”
England have only won one knockout tie in European Championship history and Southgate said that his team must not be timid. “We have stressed to the players that mistakes happen in game of football,” he said. “If you are playing forward you are risking possession at times. The objective is not to come off the pitch with 95% pass completion – the objective is to win the game and score goals.”
Southgate added that appreciated the Football Association’s chief executive, Mark Bullingham, saying that he would like him to extend his contract beyond the 2022 World Cup.
“Any manager is going to be grateful for total backing of the board and the chief executive,” he said. “Internal backing is important but in this role in particular external backing is just as important. I always think that to discuss contracts around tournaments in the past hasn’t been the right thing. We should see how this goes.”