It takes a special kind of formula to win an international football tournament. It’s fair to say the England national team has rarely figured this out. But in Euro 2020, finally, England could be learning the most crucial ingredient to international success – how to win.
After a relatively slow and steady start, England have picked up the pace with each game in their run to the semi-final of Euro 2020. In the process, they’ve yet to concede a goal.
England fans were generally negative about Gareth Southgate’s team selections in the group stage. They wanted ALL the talent unleashed at once on Croatia, Scotland and Czech Republic. But Southgate held firm, stuck to his convictions, and played it safe to navigate out of Group D with ease.Embed from Getty Images
He’s ignored the clamour to start fan favourite Jack Grealish, holding him back until the right time. He’s trusted midfield duo Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips to balance the team in the middle, and so far he’s been repaid with some solid performances.
So many micro-decisions that have been against the overwhelming public opinion. But Southgate doesn’t do public opinion – he trusts his players, his team selections, and his feeling for the right balance on a game-by-game basis.
England learning how to win with confidence and humility
The surprising thing about the knockout victories over Germany and Ukraine isn’t the wins themselves. It’s the manner of victory that’s caught England fans off guard.
Decades of hard-fought, tense wins at these stages have dampened English optimism. For all the bravado about “football’s coming home”, English arrogance is mostly all front. We’ve been hurt too many times to be that cocky.
But against Germany, this group of players didn’t swagger into the game. They were respectful of the opposition – as was Southgate with his most conservative line-up yet. Yet they’re aware of their own talents. Most of these players have played in or even won a Champions League Final after all. They’ve earned the right to feel some inner confidence on the biggest stages.Embed from Getty Images
Against Ukraine, the players took the lead early and with conviction, and controlled the game from that point on. Not once did they ever look like conceding control of the game – a rare and wonderful feeling for England fans! This team is a united, coherent, balanced and talented group.
Southgate getting so many decisions right
Despite some criticism, Gareth Southgate has never waivered in his plan. The difference between 2018’s World Cup run and now is that it seems like he has a plan, and a squad to cope with it.
Here are some of the big calls that Southgate has got right so far:
- Holding back Jack Grealish until the right moment
- Involving Tyrone Mings to cover for Harry Maguire while he was injured
- Playing Kalvin Phillips alongside Declan Rice to shield the defence
- Not succumbing to the atmosphere of a “derby” against Scotland
- Taking advantage of Luke Shaw’s phenomenal club form
- Playing 3 at the back against Germany
- Sticking with Harry Kane despite his struggle for goals
- Reintroducing Harry Maguire only when he’s fit enough
- Keeping a squad of superstars all hungry and humble
Euro 2020 is wide open
As tempting as it is to label England as favourites, that would be dismissing the quality of the Italy, Spain and Denmark. They’ve all faced some kind of criticism or adversity to get this far, and for team spirit, they’re all the equal of England.
England’s quality on the field is outstanding, and coming together at the perfect time. But how well they’ve learned the knack of winning will determine if the fairy-tale journey continues.