Gareth Southgate praises England for invoking spirit of 1966 after dramatic win

Gareth Southgate praised England’s squad for invoking the spirit of 1966 as the Euro 2024 hopefuls dug deep to beat Slovakia a few weeks after watching a presentation about Sir Alf Ramsey’s World Cup heroes.

The former defender’s 99th match in charge looked set to be his last as the Gelsenkirchen clash entered stoppage time with England trailing, only for Jude Bellingham, who turned 21 on Saturday, to score a jaw-dropping overhead kick.

That cancelled out Ivan Schranz’s first-half strike to take the last-16 tie into extra time, which was not even a minute old when captain Harry Kane nodded home from substitute Ivan Toney’s smart header.

Southgate’s men would hold on to that lead to seal a 2-1 win and a quarter-final clash against Switzerland, keeping their hopes alive of joining the England women’s team as European champions and becoming just the second England men’s team to win silverware.

Asked what his thoughts were in the moments before Bellingham struck, Southgate said: “Well, I knew Ivan Toney had the hump with me for putting him on, that was the first thing!

“But I said to him ‘this could be the moment’ (after bringing him on in the fourth minute of stoppage time).

“We showed the players a presentation about 1966 and how Geoff Hurst hadn’t played until the quarter-finals, and the difficult route that the team had had.

England’s Harry Kane celebrates with Jude Bellingham
Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham were England’s goalscorers (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“All along the players that have come into the games have had a big impact, they’ve been ready, they’ve trained well, and all of the guys that came on played important roles either in creating the goals, steadying the ship.

“We want to be better. I’m not going to hide from that, but the spirit and the character was there for everybody to see, and we’re still in there fighting.”

England will now face Switzerland in Dusseldorf, where Southgate’s side will need to be far better if they are to join the 1966 team in immortality.

“In terms of ’66, we just wanted to highlight that tournaments take you in strange places and difficult routes,” the under-pressure England boss said of the presentation.

“The team wasn’t always flying. The team, I’m sure, would have been criticised at the start, so it was a bit of perspective, really.

“We wanted to highlight the value of the squad. The fact that some of the players you think are going to be in like a Jimmy Greaves then ends up playing a different role and the support of players like Jimmy Armfield.

“It is one of the things we have done just to recognise the value of the group.

“It was back at St George’s Park before we started, but we are always referring to these moments because that’s part of what creates a tournament-winning team.

“We’ve got a long way to go. We’re in the quarter-finals, but we’re going to play against a very, very good team.

“Everybody, I’m sure, will still quite understandably be questioning our performances. I understand that.

“But we’ve got some qualities that have kept us in this and that’s not to be underestimated.

“I’m so proud of how the players have stuck together and the leadership they’ve shown, not only on the pitch but back at the base, and that is hugely important for us.”

Slovakia were tantalisingly close to their greatest result as an independent nation, with head coach Francesco Calzona’s overriding emotion being pride rather than disappointment.

“Definitely pride because we played a great match against a top-level rival, who are likely to win in the end – they are one of the favourite teams to win,” he said.

“We almost qualified, we were nearly there. Unfortunately things went the way they did.”

Calzona, like in his pre-match press conference, referenced how Slovakia’s squad value was a 10th of England’s estimated 1.5billion euros and expressed annoyance at perceived timewasting.

Tempers flare between England’s Declan Rice and Slovakia manager Francesco Calzona at full-time
Slovakia manager Francesco Calzona played down an incident with Declan Rice after the match (Bradley Collyer/PA)

The Italian coach also moved to downplay a clash with Declan Rice after the final whistle.

“Rice was supposed to go to the referees and say goodbye and leave,” he said of the England midfielder.

“I had to speak to the referees, and he was carrying on, he was continuing to speak. But then he apologised, and it all ended there.”