Expectation has weighed heavily – Southgate


England boss Gareth Southgate acknowledges that “the noise had never been louder” at the start of Euro 2024, but now believes his team is poised to make “history” as they gear up for a semi-final clash against the Netherlands.

Southgate noted that his squad, which won one match and drew two in the group stage before narrowly defeating Slovakia and then edging past Switzerland on penalties in the knockout rounds, “couldn’t quite get ourselves in the right place” earlier in the tournament.

“One of our strengths over the years has been having less fear, showing less inhibition,” he said.

“But at the beginning of the tournament the expectation weighed heavily and the noise from outside had never been louder.”

Captain Harry Kane said the team “use past experiences to help” when they approach “tough” games like Wednesday’s semi-final (20:00 BST).

“I just think during the game you lean on experience, the leaders who have been there and done that,” Kane said. “Ultimately it’s about going out there and taking the opportunity with both hands.

“Reaching back-to-back European Championship finals would be an amazing achievement and we have the opportunity to go and do that.”

The winners of Wednesday’s semi-final will face Spain on Sunday following their 2-1 victory over France on Tuesday.

England, having been beaten by Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final, reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, and were eliminated by France in the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup.

Harry Kane acknowledged that “as we’ve been getting better the expectation gets higher,” but he also noted that the increased pressure can sometimes serve as a motivation for the players.

He added: “Some will use it in different ways, some will use it as motivation, some will just block it out and focus on what they need to do. Everyone’s different.

“From a team point of view we know what we need to achieve. We have a really important game, a really tough game we need to be ready for. We’ve prepared for that.”

The Netherlands’ arrival to Dortmund was “significantly delayed” after their train was cancelled and they had to fly from Wolfsburg, with their pre-match news conference being cancelled.

‘The game will decide the substitutions we make’

Southgate has often left it until late into games to make substitutions – apart from some made at half-time – but he said changes are “not pre-conditioned” and depend on the game.

“You are always looking at the freshness of the team and the balance of the team and whether changes are going to make an improvement to the team or not,” he said.

“The game will take us in a certain direction that will make that decision for us.”

Defender Luke Shaw made his first appearance from the bench in the win against Switzerland after recovering from injury.

However, Southgate did not confirm whether Shaw will start Wednesday’s game, stating they “have to decide” if Shaw, who had been sidelined for four months, is “ready to start.”

Southgate also dismissed concerns about a German referee officiating the game, despite Jude Bellingham’s past criticism of the referee’s match-fixing history.

Bellingham, then a Borussia Dortmund player, was fined 40,000 euros (£34,000) in 2021 for referencing Felix Zwayer’s previous six-month ban for match-fixing.

Southgate added: “I have no concerns about who the referee is, he will be at a very high standard because that is how Uefa make those decisions. It’s not even a consideration.”