South­gate: We are not the fin­ished ar­ti­cle


Manchester Evening News - - SPORT | WORLD CUP - By SI­MON PEACH

GARETH South­gate ad­mits the third-place play-off is not a game that any team wants to play in, leav­ing the Eng­land man­ager fac­ing a chal­lenge to pre­pare his play­ers in the wake of their World Cup heartache.

Bel­gium lie in wait to­mor­row in St Peters­burg af­ter Croa­tia in­flicted their ex­tra-time heart­break on Wednes­day night.

Foot­ball will not come home on Sun­day, but a phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally drained Eng­land squad will.

But there is still one more match to go for the Three Li­ons. To­mor­row’s match is sure to feel like an un­nec­es­sary ex­er­tion to some, but it of­fers the chance to se­cure Eng­land’s sec­ond-best World Cup fin­ish as Sir Bobby Rob­son’s semi-fi­nal­ists lost their third-place play-off in 1990.

“The hon­est thing is it’s not a game any team wants to play in,” South­gate said.

“We have two days to pre­pare. We will want to give a per­for­mance of huge pride. There’s no ques­tion about that.

“It’s al­ways there ev­ery time we wear the shirt of our na­tional team, we want to play with pride, we want to play well and win. Of course it is go­ing to be a re­ally dif­fi­cult task to as­sess ev­ery­body and to get them men­tally back to where we want them for a game like that.

“But that will be the chal­lenge. We’ll make sure we are ready as a group to go again be­cause the group have huge pride in their per­for­mances, in the way that they work.

“And we have made such strides with our sup­port­ers and our pub­lic that we want to con­tinue to do that.”

South­gate and his play­ers are sure to be greeted as he­roes when they re­turn from Rus­sia, but un­der­ly­ing frus­tra­tion will linger af­ter miss­ing their shot at glory.

“I’m try­ing to get the bal­ance right of recog­nis­ing this was a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity for us and you can’t guar­an­tee that those op­por­tu­ni­ties come again,” the Eng­land boss said.

“But equally we want to be a team that are hit­ting quar­ter-fi­nals, semi­fi­nals, fi­nals - that is what we have aimed to do in the long term.

“And we’ve proved that is pos­si­ble. We have proved to our­selves and our coun­try that it is pos­si­ble.

“Now we have a new bench­mark, a new level of ex­pec­ta­tion. It will be a dif­fer­ent sort of sce­nario.

“But for these play­ers, many have come of age on an in­ter­na­tional stage and I couldn’t be prouder with what they’ve done.”

The last month has seen Eng­land re­con­nect with a dis­il­lu­sioned fan base, putting in per­for­mances that point to­wards a brighter fu­ture.

There is still work to be done and find­ing a way to cre­ate more chances from open play looks chief among South­gate’s tasks.

“I think our job is to max­imise the strengths that we have and to make the most of the team that we have,” the Eng­land boss said, hav­ing seen nine of his side’s 12 goals come from set-pieces.

“The abil­ity of the team and the style of play we’ve evolved enor­mously in a short pe­riod of time.

“But I’ve said all along we’re not per­fect, we’re not the fin­ished ar­ti­cle. There’s a long way for us to go. Against the very best teams, we’ve not man­aged to get the wins.

“But we’ve won a lot of matches that his­tor­i­cally Eng­land haven’t won. So we have got to look at the progress we’ve made and, as the play­ers get more ex­pe­ri­enced and there are other young play­ers to come through that we think are very ex­cit­ing as well.”

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