Gareth Southgate has said England are ready to handle the step up in quality in the last 16 of Euro 2020 after securing first place in Group D with a comfortable 1-0 win over the Czech Republic.
England’s manager believes his side are capable of rising to the occasion after Raheem Sterling’s early goal ensured that they will face the runners-up of Group F at Wembley next Tuesday. The win raises the prospect of a glamour tie with Germany, France or Portugal – Hungary also have a chance of progressing – and Southgate feels England are capable of competing with Europe’s best.
“We’ve played two opponents in the Croats and the Czechs who I think are playing at a very good level and Scotland, which as an experience for our players, was quite unique,” he said. “These will be different games. We know it’s world champions, European champions and Germany, who look like they’re back on song.
“But we’ve known that for 18 months. The good thing is we’re still improving. We look difficult to play against. We’ve got more match minutes on the pitch for important players. We’ve got minutes for important players to come and that squad depth is important. We’ve run out of steam a little bit and to be able to make changes is important.”
Southgate, who brought Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish into an exciting attack, was happy that England will start the knockout phase at Wembley. England could have had an easier tie if they had finished second to the Czechs.
“We said to the players today that this was a game with a bit less pressure because we’d qualified but still with something to achieve,” he said. “First or second, there’s no way of knowing the better route through to the final so you’ve got to take control of the bits you would like – to play at Wembley.”
Southgate questioned why Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell were forced to isolate up to and including next Monday after being deemed close contacts of Scotland’s Billy Gilmour, who tested positive for Covid-19.
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Mount and Chilwell were unavailable and are doubts to play in the last 16, even though their quarantine will be over. The duo spoke to Gilmour in the Wembley tunnel after England’s draw with Scotland last Friday.
“They are of course hugely disappointed to miss the games,” Southgate said. “We’ve just had to get on with it. It’s a bizarre situation really. They’ve spent 120 seconds too long in a fairly open space. It’s full of contradictions for me, but we have to get on with it.
“Frankly I don’t understand it at all. There are teams travelling around by plane, by coach, by bus, sitting in enclosed spaces for hours, and our two boys have been pinged for something. I don’t get it.”
Southgate, who praised Saka’s man-of-the-match display, was pleased that Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson came through the game unscathed. Maguire impressed on his first start since 9 May and Henderson looked assured after replacing Declan Rice at half-time.
“Harry has presence and composure,” Southgate said. “It’s more difficult for Jordan because he’s been out for longer. It was great to get him 45; he’ll be better for that. Jack – fabulous cross for the goal, some of the interchanging of position was exciting. We tired a little bit but we knew that, one or two are short of fitness.
“Bukayo, I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s earned that opportunity, His performances in training have been outstanding. We’ve talked about playing him in previous matches and he earned that chance tonight. He was fabulous.”