Gareth Southgate focused on task at hand as nation waits with bated breath

·4-min read

Gareth Southgate is focused on outmanoeuvring Italy in Sunday’s Euro 2020 final rather than the hullabaloo surrounding England’s shot at winning just a second ever trophy.

The nation will come to a standstill when the Three Lions walk out to a rocking Wembley and attempt to follow in the footsteps of the World Cup heroes of 1966.

England’s second major tournament final offers an unforgettable opportunity to Southgate and his players, who are looking to end the 55-year wait for a trophy by lifting a first ever European Championship crown.

Asked if he has a sense of the history he is at the heart of, the Three Lions boss told BBC Radio 5 Live: “Well, I’m trying not to at the moment.

“We have been tucked away in our base camp, which has been perfect for us. We’ve been able to prepare without any distractions.

“It’s really felt like home for the last four weeks. It was a bit sad to leave the room, actually.

“But I think that that’s been very important for us through a tournament where so many matches were being played at Wembley.

SOCCER England
PA Graphics

“There has been a lot of expectation, there has been excitement and we’ve been able to calmly go about our business, really, and we see tomorrow very much the same.

“Of course we’ll feel the energy as we get closer to the kick-off and as we get closer to the stadium.

“But it’s no use us playing the game over and over again tonight.

“We’ve got to have our composure and energy levels right for tomorrow, and I think the players are ready. They know the opponent, they know what they need to do.

“We said before the semi-final there’s very few scenarios as a group they haven’t been through and individually.

“It’s going to be a fantastic event and brilliant to be a part of. We’re really looking forward to the challenge.”

England left St George’s Park for the final time on Saturday afternoon and headed south, with staff lining the road out of the training base as hundreds of people waited outside to wave them off.

“We’ve been conscious not to change anything this week so normal preparation for a game for us,” said Southgate, whose side will have played six of their seven Euro 2020 matches on home soil.

“Of course we’re aware of the heightened excitement and expectation. On our way out of St George’s, people waiting to see us off.

“It’s lovely that the whole country seems to be really wrapped up in this tournament.

“When you drive past people and their tooting their horns and their flags are flying out the back of their cars it’s hard not to notice that all of that, really.”

Phil Foden is the only doubt heading into Sunday’s final due to what Southgate calls a “fairly minor foot injury” that requires further assessment.

Phil Foden is a fitness doubt for the finaL
Phil Foden is a fitness doubt for the final (Mike Egerton/PA)

The England playmaker’s ability to unpick defences would be a welcome tool against Roberto Mancini’s Italy, who head into the match unbeaten in a remarkable 33 matches having impressed throughout the Euros.

“I think they’ve got some experienced players,” Southgate said.

“They’ve got some super footballers in midfield – Jorginho, (Marco) Verratti in particular, (Nicolo) Barella – so very good players.

“(Lorenzo) Insigne I remember scoring against our Under-21s in the tournament before I took over and has been outstanding for Napoli over the years.

“We know what they’re capable of, their run of form is phenomenal, really. I mean, only three draws, never mind defeats, out of their last 29-30 matches.

“That’s an incredible run and huge credit to their whole group and to Roberto.”

Former England defender Southgate also has an appreciation for experienced, but not infallible, Azzurri centre-backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.

“Well, first and foremost, defensive warriors, really,” he said. “You can see how composed they are with the ball.

Giorgio Chiellini
Giorgio Chiellini will be looking to keep England’s strikers at bay at Wembley (Laurence Griffiths, Pool via AP)

“I mean, they both played in a Juventus side that have had a consistent way of playing for a long time. They’ve got the ability to play out from the back.

“But of course in the end defenders are judged on clean sheets and I don’t know how many those two would have between them but they must be racking them up.

“So, vastly experienced but also not flawless and every team has strengths and weaknesses. We’re the same.

“It’s our job to try to exploit whatever weaknesses we can find.”