The memories will live with me forever - Southgate reflects on five years as England manager

By Sports Desk November 30, 2021

Gareth Southgate has been England manager for five years and says the memories of the Three Lions' Euro 2020 campaign will stay with him "forever".

The former Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace defender replaced Sam Allardyce on November 30, 2016, having held the post of Under-21s manager since 2013.

Southgate was initially appointed on an interim basis, but was handed the reins permanently after four games and has since led England to a World Cup semi-final in 2018 and the final of Euro 2020 in July.

England secured their spot at the World Cup in Qatar next year by topping their qualifying group, going unbeaten and conceding just three goals in 10 games in the process, leading to a new contract for the 51-year-old that runs until 2024.

"To take a country to a first final in 55 years, for everybody involved, for all the staff, all the players and for all the fans, some of those memories of Wembley through this summer will live with me forever," Southgate said to England's official website.

"[At the 2018 World Cup in] Russia, we brought a connection back with the fans. There were probably several generations of fans who had not been to a semi-final. This year was unique, really, when you think we had been locked away for so long and everything we had lived through.

"There is an important place for international football. It does bring everyone together. When you feel like you are there with 50 million people behind you, it is an immense feeling.

"People used to say 'well, nobody cares about international football anymore' but they did. I think everybody had just been hurt and disappointed a lot, and you almost don’t want to get hurt anymore and you withdraw from it.

"Now we have some generations of fans who think it has always been this way. Well, let me tell you, folks, it hasn't!"

Southgate gave some insight into the process of rebuilding a team that was low on belief and turning them into a side capable of challenging at major tournaments.

"Confidence was low [when I first took the job]," Southgate added. "This was not a group which was disunited, but there was a lack of confidence because of the last couple of tournaments and two changes of manager in a couple of months, so we needed to stabilise things to begin with and we needed to qualify for a World Cup.

"That was the priority but of course what we knew in the background was there was a younger generation of players coming through to support the guys who were already there that could provide real competition for places, with some good experiences of winning at junior level. 

"[They were] technically really good players that could maybe play in a slightly different way to traditional England teams of the past, where I was in tournaments with England where we couldn’t keep the ball enough.

"Now in the biggest games we have a step to go with that because we have managed that for long periods in tournaments but under real pressure, we still need to be better at that.

"You have to have continuity. You need a real clear sense of direction for everyone who works at St. George’s on the football and for everybody at the FA.

"I think it is a credit to everybody, the different chairmen and chief executives I have worked with here, that they have put football more at the forefront of their thinking and there has been a plan."

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  • The Numbers Game: France face Mbappe conundrum ahead of Netherlands test The Numbers Game: France face Mbappe conundrum ahead of Netherlands test

    Both the Netherlands and France made winning, if not entirely convincing, starts at Euro 2024.

    On Friday, they face off in a heavyweight clash that could go some way to deciding who tops Group D.

    Ronald Koeman's Oranje had Wout Weghorst to thank as they fought back to beat Poland 2-1 in their opening match, and they will hope the potential absence of Kylian Mbappe gives them the upper hand in Leipzig.

    Mbappe's availability is "uncertain" after he suffered a broken nose during Les Bleus' nervy 1-0 victory over Austria, with the forward set to be fitted with a protective mask ahead of a potential return.

    How will the tournament favourites cope if Mbappe does miss out? Here, we delve into the Opta data to preview Friday's game.

    What's expected?

    Despite the question marks over Mbappe's availability, France are favourites to make it two wins from two games.

    The Opta supercomputer gives them a 52.3 per cent chance of victory to the Netherlands' 24.4 per cent, with 23.3 per cent of simulations finishing level.

    This will be the fourth time the teams have faced off at the Euros. France triumphed on penalties in the 1996 quarter-finals, but the Netherlands have since won two group-stage encounters, 3-2 in 2000 and 4-1 in 2008.

    France have, however, won seven of their last eight matches against the Oranje in all competitions, the exception being a 2-0 defeat in the UEFA Nations League in November 2018.

    If recent history is anything to go by, we should expect to get a victor. Only four of the previous 30 matches between the teams have ended in a draw, with France posting 15 victories to the Netherlands' 11.

    Excluding penalty shoot-outs, the Oranje have only lost one of their last 17 major tournament matches (World Cup/Euros), going down 2-0 to Czechia at Euro 2020 (12 wins, four draws). 

    They lost four successive games before this run began – all three group-stage matches at Euro 2012 and the 2010 World Cup final versus Spain.  

    France, meanwhile, could win their opening two games at a European Championships for the fourth time. On each of the previous occasions on which they accomplished that feat, they went on to reach the final (1984, 2000 and 2016).

    If in doubt, get Wout out

    Standing at six-foot-six and still on Burnley's books after loan spells with Besiktas, Manchester United and Hoffenheim, Weghorst may not be the personification of Johan Cruyff's 'total football' ideals.

    However, he has a real knack for being in the right place at the right time for his national team.

    Weghorst's winner against Poland came with his first touch after coming on as an 81st-minute substitute and was his fourth goal at a major tournament (World Cup/Euros).

    Three of those strikes have come as a substitute, the most goals any Oranje player has scored off the bench at tournaments.   

     

    He also has seven goals in his last 11 international appearances overall, tying Cody Gakpo and Calvin Stengs as the Netherlands' leading scorers in Euro 2024 qualifying with three. 

    He ranked eighth among all players for touches in the opposition box during qualifying (47), with six of those to beat him having played more than his 517 minutes.

    Memphis Depay started up front against Poland and flattered to deceive, failing to hit the target with any of his four shots. While he is likely to keep his place in Koeman's lineup on Friday, expect Weghorst to be introduced earlier if Depay produces a similar display.

    Didier Deschamps took some time to settle on Arsenal's William Saliba as the ideal centre-back partner for Dayot Upamecano, and the France duo may need to be prepared for an aerial bombardment. It may not be total football, but it could be effective. 

    Mbappe's absence a chance for Giroud?

    France, meanwhile, are facing up to the scenario they never wished to contemplate – having to cope without Mbappe.

    After colliding with the shoulder of Austria defender Kevin Danso on matchday one, Mbappe is a major doubt for Friday's game. On Wednesday, the president of the France Football Federation, Philippe Diallo, said it was "too soon to know" if he will play again at this tournament.

    The Netherlands will certainly be breathing a sigh of relief, having seen Mbappe score six times in five career matches against them, including his first senior international goal in August 2017. Against no other nation has Real Madrid's newest Galactico netted more often.

    However, Mbappe did attempt four shots without scoring against Austria, taking his total number of shots without scoring at the Euros to 18, the most of any Frenchman since 1980.

    Mbappe started centrally against Austria but often drifted out to the left flank, with Ousmane Dembele stationed wide on the right. Randal Kolo Muani could come in to play a similar role, or Olivier Giroud could provide more of a traditional focal point.

     

    Giroud's 57 international goals put him top of Les Bleus' all-time scoring charts, six clear of Thierry Henry. Just eight of those have come at major tournaments (one at the 2014 World Cup, three at Euro 2016, four at the 2022 World Cup), but the former Arsenal and Chelsea man has long been a crucial foil for his more mobile team-mates. 

    France have won 71.9 per cent of their games with Giroud in the starting lineup under Deschamps (64/89), compared to 57.3 per cent without him (43/75). 

    The 37-year-old, who has 16 headed goals for his country, will also have been licking his lips at the sight of the Netherlands' set-piece defending against Poland, as Adam Buksa took advantage of some lax marking to head home unopposed from a corner.

    The last three goals conceded by Koeman's team have now come from corners.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH 

    Netherlands – Cody Gakpo

    Having netted the Netherlands' equaliser in their opening match, Gakpo has scored on all four of his group-stage starts at major tournaments (World Cup/Euros).

    In all competitions, the Liverpool forward has six goal involvements in his last eight appearances on the international stage (four goals, two assists). 

    Only Nathan Ake, with four, bettered his three chances created against Poland, while he also completed all five of his dribbles and won 15 of his total of 18 duels contested – both team-high figures.

    France – Antoine Griezmann

    With Mbappe likely to miss out, France need another of their attacking stars to step up. 

    Since the start of Euro 2016, Griezmann has more goal involvements at major tournaments (18 – 11 goals and seven assists) than any other European player (World Cup/Euros).

    Against Austria, no player on the pitch bettered Griezmann's two chances created, while he also attempted as many crosses (six) as all of his team-mates combined.

    In Mbappe's absence, he could get the freedom to roam into more advanced areas. He only managed two touches in the opposition box against Austria, though his two shots were worth a game-high 0.84 expected goals (xG).

  • Scotland 1-1 Switzerland: Trademark Shaqiri stunner puts Swiss on brink of last 16 Scotland 1-1 Switzerland: Trademark Shaqiri stunner puts Swiss on brink of last 16

    Switzerland moved a point closer to the last 16 at Euro 2024 as Xherdan Shaqiri returned to their lineup and netted another big goal to rescue a 1-1 draw against Scotland.

    Shaqiri, appearing in a Swiss-record seventh major tournament, was the only change to the team that had beaten Hungary 3-1 in their Group A opener.

    The former Bayern Munich and Liverpool winger was required to come up with a trademark moment of inspiration to secure a result, even if Switzerland fell short of the three points that would have made sure of their knockout place with a game to spare.

    Scotland, seeking to respond to a humbling 5-1 defeat to Germany, started brightly and led following a 13th-minute counter-attack. Callum McGregor cut the ball back for Scott McTominay, whose shot was heading straight at Yann Sommer until defender Fabian Schar stuck out a leg and inadvertently deflected it in.

    Another defensive mishap at the other end opened the door for Shaqiri to score his 10th tournament goal, however, as he seized on Anthony Ralston's loose pass to loft a sublime first-time finish over Angus Gunn into the top-left corner.

    Dan Ndoye had a quick Swiss second disallowed for offside and drew a superb save from Gunn in the second half, although Scotland came closer still to a winner when Grant Hanley headed against the post.

    While Breel Embolo was also denied by an offside flag and Zeki Amdouni nodded agonisingly wide, the point will surely prove more useful to Switzerland than their opponents, who now need a huge goal swing in the final round of Group A matches to finish in the top two.

    Data Debrief: Shaqiri extends streak in style

    This was an historic night for Shaqiri, who marked his landmark appearance with a stunning strike to extend his streak of scoring at tournaments.

    No other European player has scored at each of the past six major tournaments going back to the 2014 World Cup.

    This spectacular effort was on brand, too, as Shaqiri netted from outside the box for a third time at a tournament. Lothar Matthaus and Michel Platini (both four) are the only European players with more such goals since 1966.

  • Nagelsmann lauds maturing Germany but Kroos looking beyond last 16 Nagelsmann lauds maturing Germany but Kroos looking beyond last 16

    Julian Nagelsmann believes Germany's victory over Hungary on Wednesday showed their increasing maturity, even if Toni Kroos is far from satisfied with the Euro 2024 hosts' progress so far.

    Germany became the first team to reach the last 16 of the tournament as goals either side of half-time from Jamal Musiala and Ilkay Gundogan saw off tricky opponents.

    Indeed, head coach Nagelsmann suggested this was the sort of match in which his team might previously have faltered.

    "That was a very unpleasant opponent," he told MagentaTV. "You have to win a game like that first.

    "It shows a good maturing process. In November, we would not have won this game."

    It is only the second time Germany have advanced through the group stage in four major tournaments, but there is no time to relax ahead of their third match against Switzerland.

    The hosts will name a strong side as they aim to maintain their momentum.

    "It is important that we have as many players from the first XI back on the pitch as possible, because we have deliberately distributed the roles," Nagelsmann added. "We believe in the players' respective strengths in their roles.

    "It may of course be that we change one or two players; we have to see how everyone gets through this game. But as of now, everyone is healthy."

    That will be music to the ears of retiring midfielder Kroos, who is keen for Germany to go "full throttle" against Switzerland.

    He and his team-mates are perhaps wary of a repeat of the last Euros, where Germany came through the group stage but drew their third match and then had to face England in the last 16, losing at Wembley.

    "There is little reason for the pressure to drop now because we have a bigger goal than just the round of 16," Kroos said.

    He added to RTL: "It is also a statement to come first in the group, and it is important to maintain this run."

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