HISTORY SHOULD HELP NOT HINDER US, SAYS SOUTHGATE
MANAGER Gareth Southgate has told England’s young squad to attack the World Cup unburdened by their forerunners’ failings.
Seamless preparations have been underpinned by anticipation and hope, leaving the Three Lions in fine fettle ahead of today’s Group G opener against Tunisia in Volgograd.
Southgate’s promising young side look ready to make a mark on the world stage and help atone for the disappointments of recent tournaments.
After bowing out at the group stage of the last World Cup, England somehow managed to stoop even lower by losing to Iceland to exit Euro 2016. Tunisia marks their first major tournament match since then and the chance to kick off the finals with a victory for the first time in 12 years.
“I think the history can help us in terms of understanding what we can improve upon and what we can do,” England boss Southgate said.
“You learn lessons from the past, but this team shouldn’t be burdened with it because they’re a fresh group, most of them have very few international caps.
“The future is all ahead of them, so they have to be thinking about what’s possible.
“The players of the past and opportunities of the past are gone.
“This team is looking at things in a different way, trying to play in a different way.
“They have a hunger, a desire, we have better technical players than we’ve had in the past coming through our academies, so there’s a real enthusiasm.
“They’re looking forward to getting going.
“It’s been great to have time on the training pitch with them ,but of course when you’re in the last group to play then you’re having to sit and watch everybody else get out there.
“I don’t think they want any more information. They just want to get on with the games now.”
England enjoyed injury-free preparations for the tournament, as well as encouraging warm-up wins against Nigeria and Costa Rica.
But it is the warmth and openness of the players at St George’s Park and Repino that appear to have won over supporters.
“I think that connection with our supporters is really important,” former England defender Southgate said.
“There has been lots of perceptions about our players for a long time – and I don’t think they’ve been the truth.
“So, it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.
“In the end, it’s how we perform and how we play in this tournament.
“But there’s a bigger picture for us in that with a group of young of players, who I think are going to be together for a long time, I think it’s important people see the enthusiasm and hunger they have got to play for their country.”
Southgate spoke with a calm assurance alongside captain Harry Kane at the pre-match press conference at the Volgograd Arena.
While there was never any doubt about the striker starting against Tunisia, the England manager moved to eradicate any lingering doubts about the rest of his starting line-up.
“I think the players pretty much knew the team anyway from the way we work in training,” Southgate said. “I just felt it gives some clarity.
“It’s something that, in the couple of tournaments I played in, the managers did in the week leading up to the first game and I felt it did give everybody the opportunity just to really focus.”
What would appear to be the most negative aspect in Volgograd is out of their control, with fewer than 3,000 ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ supporters expected to cheer England in their opener.
“There’s obviously been a lot of stories leading into the tournament that have put people off coming,” Southgate said.
“We’ve tried to reassure people that we don’t see any dangers.
“I think everyone can see the security around the tournament especially, so we’re really grateful to the people who are travelling.
“It always gives us a huge lift to see the fans in the stadium.”
Kane is already playing catchup to Cristiano Ronaldo in the World Cup scoring stakes, but the England captain is hoping to start a goal spree of his own against Tunisia.
Ronaldo turned in a classic performance with a superb hattrick as Portugal drew 3-3 with Spain on Friday, instantly turning up the heat on the rest of the tournament’s top marksmen.
Kane said: “For sure, he’s put me under a bit of pressure. He’s a fantastic player who had a fantastic game.
“Hopefully I will score a hattrick [tnight] and we’ll both be level.”
The players of the past and opportunities of the past are gone. England manager Gareth Southgate, on his side playing without any burdens.
INSPIRED Mexico held on to beat defending champions Germany in a stunning performance at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
Man of the match Hirving Lozano scored the only goal of the game when he finished a Mexican break by drilling a low shot past Manuel Neuer, but, in truth, this was a breathtaking team performance.
Germany, on the other hand, took too long to get going and lacked the poise the rest of the world has grown accustomed to seeing from them on this stage.
They have been battering teams in World Cup openers for as long as any of the players on this pitch could remember.
Their previous defeat in a first game was to Algeria in 1982, and since then they had averaged three and a half goals.
But right from the first minute, or even right from the national anthems, it seemed this opener could be different.
The Mexican media had talked up Lozano in the build-up and everyone saw why after about 30 seconds. Carlos Vela, who the Mexican media have been talking up for over a decade, found some space and slipped the ball to the onrushing Lozano, who cut inside and shot with his right foot.
This time it was blocked. This time because it was a sequence of events that would become as regular as the Moscow Metro: one every five minutes.
Now playing in Los Angeles, Vela clearly went missing during his eight years with Arsenal – only 29 appearances for the Gunners in eight frustrating seasons – but Germany could not get a handle on him, either.
Within 20 minutes Neuer, the Golden Glove winner four years ago, had been given more chances to remind everyone of this than he could have hoped for with Hector Herrera and West Ham’s Javier Hernandez both testing him.
But Germany were making chances, too, with Bayern Munich’s marauding right-back Joshua Kimmich putting Timo Werner in for a shot at goal and then creating panic with a fizzing cross.
Mexico were the more composed side, though, and they also had speed and willing runners. It was noticeable that when Germa- ny had a corner or attacking freekick Mexico left Hernandez, Lozano and sometimes right-winger Miguel Layun up the pitch.
So when a German move broke down in the 35th minute the crowd had already seen four rehearsals of what happened next: Vela to Hernandez to Lozano to his right foot, and this time to the back of net, with Neuer beaten at his near post.
The 22-year-old scored 19 in 34 games for PSV Eindhoven in the season just ended and this was his eighth in 29 for Mexico.
Defenders should remember the name and the fact he does not use his left foot.
Germany kept asking Mexico questions, but El Tri’s rearguard continued to find answers.
Guillermo Ochoa, their goalkeeper, had a good Brazil 2014 as well and he showed there is spring in his 32-year-old heels when he tipped a Toni Kroos freekick onto the bar just before the break.
But it was an omen of things to come. Germany are ranked No 1 by FIFA for a reason and they beat Mexico 4-1 on their way to last year’s win in the Confederations Cup, so it was inevitable that a response was coming.
Mesut Ozil, who was has been under huge pressure in the buildup for the photo opportunity he and Ilkay Gundogan gave to Turkey’s controversial president Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month, suddenly started to orchestrate affairs.
With 20 minutes to go both Vela and Lozano were off, utterly exhausted, and Mexico were now firmly in none-shall-pass mode.
The fact Kimmich went close with an overhead kick is a guide of how high up the pitch he was playing. Julian Draxler and then Werner both saw shots fly over.
Marco Reus, the player many Germans wanted to see from the start, was on now as well and Mexico were hanging on. Julian Brandt, another late substitute, flashed a shot inches away in the 89th minute.
But that was as close as the four-time world champions would get, as Mexico, to the delight of their fervent following, held on for a famous win and a very rare German setback.
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio said his side’s victory was six months in the planning, but delivered by a team who played with glory in mind, not worry.
Germany had not lost an opening game at the World Cup since 1982 and thrashed Mexico 4-1 at last summer’s Confederations Cup.
But Osorio, who spent four years as an assistant coach with Manchester City more than a decade ago, knew exactly how he wanted his team to approach this task.
The 57-year-old Colombian said: “I told them to play for the love of winning, not the fear of losing.
“I always tell the players that I’m supposed to be the one who carries all the pressure. They just need to concentrate on the game and when they win it’s their credit and if we lose it’s my fault.
“That’s the way football is and they really focused on the beautiful game and they beat the world champions.”
Lozano said his goal “was the best I’ve scored” and described it “as a dream come true”.
Germany coach Joachim Low said: “We played very badly in the first half and were not able to impose ourselves.”
He described his side’s opening 45 minutes as “haphazard”, “ineffective”, “negligent” and “nervous”.
He admitted that his defenders struggled to cope with Mexico’s speed on the break, but the real problem was the sloppiness of their attack, a situation that improved in the second half only for their efforts on goal to be “jinxed” or “rushed”.
ECSTASY AND DESPAIR: Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer walks past as Mexico players celebrate their 1-0 Group F victory over the World Cup holders in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
SHEER DELIGHT: Mexico’s Hirving Lozano, left, celebrates with his team-mate Jesus Gallardo after scoring against Germany in their opening Group F game in Moscow. Inset, the closest Germany got to an equaliser was when Toni Kroos struck the Mexican crossbar with a free-kick.