Southgate’s perfect start gives England momentum - GulfToday

Southgate’s perfect start gives England momentum


England players attend a training session at St George’s Park in Burton upon Trent on Thursday. Associated Press

Gareth Southgate won over an English public who were sceptical about his ability to lead the Three Lions with a run to the World Cup semi-finals three years ago and is already silencing his critics at Euro 2020.

For the first time at a European Championship, England are off to a winning start as Southgate’s bold selection paid off in a 1-0 win against Croatia on Sunday.

Next up is a fixture against Scotland on Friday, with the chance to book their place in the last-16 with a game to spare.

Southgate’s team selection for the opener caused a social media storm before kick-off as Raheem Sterling retained his place ahead of Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish despite a poor end to his season at Manchester City.

Kalvin Phillips’s inclusion alongside Declan Rice in midfield and the decision to start Kieran Trippier at left-back also raised eyebrows.

But those calls proved inspired as Phillips set up Sterling for the only goal, while Trippier helped keep a clean sheet.

“I don’t think there would be one person in the 65 million English population who would pick that team today,” said former Manchester United captain Gary Neville, who played with Southgate at Euro 96.

“I thought he managed that game unbelievably today. I think Southgate is our greatest asset.

“The clamour was to go with Grealish but he didn’t even bring him off the bench. He’s had seven or eight tournaments as a coach, U21s and as a player, I feel very comfortable with him as a manager.”

Southgate’s lack of a stellar coaching CV at club level has counted against him in the eyes of his doubters.

His three years in charge at Middlesbrough ended in relegation from the Premier League in 2009.

But he rebuilt his reputation in three years as England’s under-21 manager between 2013 and 2016, fostering relationships with a number of his now-senior internationals such as Sterling, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, John Stones and Jordan Pickford.

Personal touch: That personal touch is a major strength of the 50-year-old as an international manager.

He has consistently spoken out on behalf of his players on issues of racism and social media abuse, most recently resolutely defending his side’s decision to keep taking the knee ahead of matches at the Euro despite boos from some fans and pressure from leading politicians to abandon the gesture.

“He’s great to talk to. He’s always putting his arm around the players, which is important,” said Phil Foden, who at 21 is playing his first major tournament.

Southgate caught the eye with his waistcoats in Russia in 2018, sparking a fashion trend across the country.

Southgate is off to the perfect start, but there is a long way to go if he is to end England’s 55 years of hurt next month.

Scotland off to a slow star: Meanwhile, Scotland’s return to the major tournament stage may be off to a slow start, but a visit to Wembley to face England offers Steve Clarke’s men the chance to writes themselves into folklore for generations to come.

A 2-0 defeat by the Czech Republic at Hampden on Monday leaves Scotland realistically needing to avoid defeat against the Three Lions to maintain hopes of making it out of the group stage for the first time.

On paper there appears a gulf in class for Clarke’s side to bridge against the side ranked fourth in the world, who harbour ambitions of conquering Europe for the first time.

But no game means more to Scotland than beating the old enemy.

The Scottish sides of 1967 and 1977 are still fondly remembered for victories at Wembley in the old British Home Championship.

Doing so at their first major tournament for 23 years would make the Scottish players legends back home.

“The English media would have you believe the gap is humongous,” said Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn on Wednesday. “It’s up to us on Friday to prove that wrong.”

Agence France-Presse

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