Gareth Southgate praised the “phenomenal” spirit of his England squad after admitting he has been finding it tough to leave out players in the wake of the 4-0 win over Ukraine.
Three years after leading England to a World Cup semi-final, Southgate has now sent his country to the same stage of Euro 2020. They got there in style, with Harry Kane scoring a brace and Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson getting in on the act in a comprehensive quarter-final win.
Now, fans are daring to dream of a major tournament success after a thrilling performance away from Wembley.
After the victory in Rome, Southgate told BBC One: “The players have been fantastic. To play as well as they did in a game with so much resting on it was impressive.
“It’s a strange feeling. I’m thinking of the lads we didn’t get on the pitch. Conor Coady, Ben Chilwell, Sam Johnstone, Aaron Ramsdale – they’re the ones making this team successful. The spirit in the group is phenomenal.
“Whoever comes in does the job, whoever isn’t in – it is really difficult to leave three out of the matchday squad – the squad mentality is fantastic. That’s uppermost in my mind, looking after those guys.
“I’m spending more energy worrying about the three I have to leave out because they’re all good players. None of them deserve to be left out. They’re all giving everything in training.
“None of it is because I don’t think they’re up to the level but we have to make the decisions. We have to make the right call for the right game with the right system. All of the players have been brilliant. Tonight all the way through the group they’ve been fantastic.”
‘Still sinking in’ for Southgate
Southgate, who also guided England to the last four of the UEFA Nations League in 2019, admitted the achievement is still sinking in.
However, he knows there is work to do before they can quantify it as a success.
He enthused: “It’s fabulous. I suppose it’s still sinking in that it’s another semi-final – three in three years.
“We want to go two steps further. I know what will be happening at home. It’s lovely to see everyone on a Saturday night, beer in hand. They should enjoy it.
“It’s been a long year for everyone. I’m chuffed the two performances have brought so much happiness to people.
“We’ve known we had players we needed to look after physically. We’ve been able to introduce them. We know across seven games the squad is so important, trying to give people a breather at the right time. We learned a lot from Russia in that instance.
“We were trying to balance players with knocks and yellow cards. ‘Do we take the centre-back off? Because we’ve the game sown up he won’t need to make a tackle.’
“It’s fabulous for our country – a semi-final at Wembley. Everyone can really look forward to that; it’s brilliant.”