Boss pride in Lions

South­gate ‘blown away’ by Eng­land star’s re­ac­tion af­ter bit­ter Croatia loss

Sport360 - - World Cup 2018 - By Si­mon Peach @si­mon­peach

Gareth South­gate has been blown away by his play­ers’ re­sponse to their semi-fi­nal dev­as­ta­tion as fo­cus turns to be­com­ing the sec­ond-best Eng­land side in World Cup his­tory.

The ex­tra-time loss to Croatia in mid­week means the Three Lions are pre­par­ing for Satur­day’s third-place play-off against Bel­gium in St Petersburg in­stead of the show­piece fi­nal against France the fol­low­ing day.

South­gate and his play­ers are still try­ing to di­gest Wed­nes­day’s 2-1 semi-fi­nal loss, but there is lit­tle time to wal­low with Eng­land hav­ing the chance to achieve the na­tion’s best-ever fin­ish at an over­seas World Cup.

“In terms of men­tal­ity, it’s ob­vi­ously been a re­ally dif­fi­cult cou­ple of days for us,” the Eng­land man­ager said.

“We were 20 min­utes from a World Cup fi­nal, and then in ex­tra­time 10 min­utes from a shootout to get to a World Cup fi­nal.

“The rea­son for us be­ing here was to achieve that big goal. For all of the play­ers and all of the staff, we got back to St Petersburg at 6.30am af­ter the game, so emo­tion­ally it has been a very dif­fi­cult few days.

“But I’ve got to say the play­ers are in­cred­i­ble. They’re an ab­so­lute plea­sure to work with and their en­ergy this morn­ing, their de­sire to fin­ish the tour­na­ment well ....

“We feel we owe it as much to our­selves as to our pub­lic, and our na­tion I think now. We’ve brought a lot of pride but we want to fin­ish the tour­na­ment well.

“We’ve set a stan­dard in how we work, a stan­dard in the way that we play and we want to aspire to that level every time we come out and every time we train.

“We want to keep those stan­dards right to the end and the play­ers did that this morn­ing in train­ing. What we have to de­cide with the team is who can go again phys­i­cally – it’ll be im­por­tant.”

South­gate re­ported that every­one had trained on Fri­day, but that some of those who had fea­tured in the semi-fi­nal may not have re­cov­ered suf­fi­ciently to face the Bel­gians.

“Some­times it’s not al­ways a good de­ci­sion for peo­ple to play if their en­ergy isn’t quite there and we’ve got to think about who can give us the best per­for­mance,” he said.

“It won’t be ex­actly the same start­ing XI, but we want ide­ally to make as few changes as pos­si­ble. We’ve one or two in­juries, one or two with a lit­tle bit of ill­ness, so we just have to see.

“But we have high mo­ti­va­tion to per­form. We have the chance to win a medal at a World Cup, which only one other English team has ever done.

“So there’s a lot of mo­ti­va­tion for us and of course Bel­gium have beaten us once al­ready, so we’d like to re­dress that as well.”

Kieran Trip­pier trained on the eve of the game but looks a doubt af­ter a nerve prob­lem and cramp forced him off late in ex­tra-time against Croatia, while South­gate did not rule out chang­ing goal­keep­ers.

Per­haps the most in­ter­est­ing de­ci­sion, though, re­lates to six-goal striker Harry Kane, who leads the Golden Boot race and was among eight changes when Eng­land’s re­serves lost 1-0 to Bel­gium’s back-ups in the Group G fi­nale last month.

“We have a cap­tain whose first thought all tour­na­ment has been how far can the team go? How can he help the team to progress?” South­gate said.

“He was to­tally on board with us not play­ing him in the first game against Bel­gium. If he had a dif­fer­ent mind­set, he’d have been in­sist­ing he played in the game.

“He didn’t. He wanted to do what was right for the team, so it would be even more pow­er­ful for him if he wins the Golden Boot hav­ing made that sac­ri­fice, in my opin­ion.”

It would be a mo­men­tous achieve­ment for cap­tain Kane, al­beit scant con­so­la­tion af­ter fall­ing short of the World Cup fi­nal.

South­gate is well aware of what an op­por­tu­nity they let slip but is not wor­ry­ing about whether this sum­mer is as good as it gets.

“I’m not scared of any­thing,” he said. “Not even of the big bad wolf, re­ally!

“We’re here to try and im­prove every time we play and every time we go into a tour­na­ment.

“In many re­spects, there were low ex­pec­ta­tions this time that re­lieved the pres­sure, but nev­er­the­less there was still pres­sure to get out of the group, pres­sure to win their first knock­out game, pres­sure to win the penalty shootout.

“They coped bril­liantly with all of that, so if we want to play for Eng­land you have to deal with ex­pec­ta­tion. It’s the same as if you were at a big club.”

“We have a chance to win a medal at a World Cup” – South­gate

On the prowl: Eng­land boss Gareth South­gate has a cou­ple of se­lec­tion de­ci­sions.

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