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Southgate dismisses easy draw talk

Gareth Southgate

England manager focused on quarter-final against Switzerland.

Gareth Southgate dismissed talk of England having an easy draw as misplaced “entitlement” as he focuses on reaching another European Championship semi-final in his 100th match in charge.

All eyes will be on Dusseldorf on Saturday as the Euro 2020 runners-up look to beat Switzerland and kick on from unconvincingly topping their group and last week’s great escape against Slovakia.

Southgate was seconds away from his eight-year reign ending in humiliation, only for Jude Bellingham’s overhead kick to save the day before Harry Kane’s extra-time header secured a 2-1 last-16 win.

Progress means that he will follow Walter Winterbottom and Sir Alf Ramsey in reaching 100 matches as England boss on Saturday – a personal milestone outweighed by collective ambitions.

“Well, I’m very proud, but it’s the least important statistic of the week,” Southgate said on the eve of reaching a century.

“The only thing that matters is that it’s a quarter-final and my complete focus is on trying to get my country into another semi-final.

“So, I’m sure in years to come I’ll look back on that with and reflect with great pride but at the moment it’s the last thing on my mind really.”

England have flattered to deceive in Germany but they are through to their fourth straight major tournament quarter-final and have a kind-looking path to the Berlin finale.

While Spain, France, Germany and Portugal featured in the other half of the draw, beating Slovakia and Switzerland would earn Southgate’s side a semi-final against Turkey or the Netherlands.

“I would say that’s a classic example of the sort of entitlement we have as a nation that creates drama and annoys our opponents,” Southgate said.

“We’re playing a really strong football nation who have played exceptionally well prepared, have enormous pride.

“Our focus is on, ‘how do we win this game?’ And, ‘how do we play it to the best of our ability?’ As you rightly said, we’ve never been to a final outside England.

“We’ve only had two finals in our history, three semi-finals, so lots of nations who we might perceive as English people to be smaller have had far better records than us in terms of winning things, in terms of getting to the latter stages of finals. It’s half the problem we have.

“But we’re ready for tomorrow. As a team, we definitely have huge respect for our opponents and we know we’ve got to be our very best to be able to win the game.”

Southgate was respectful about Switzerland throughout his press conference and laughed off a question saying England were like a “big, heavy, maybe slow, Rolls Royce” and their opponents a “fast Mini Cooper”.

“Your Mini Cooper has been excellent,” he said. “We’ve got to find another level.”

John Stones believes the emotional high of their Slovakia comeback can be the “turning point” in Germany, where Southgate says the players have looked “in a different place mentally, more fluid” in training.

“I just think the longer the players are here, the more belief they have,” he explained. “The less they are being affected by what’s outside. They can see the opportunity.

“We talked about being in camp for being 45 days when we met. Now that has to be just 10. So that feels much closer.

“But at the same time, it is still a million miles away because every game can take you on a journey like the game did the other night.

“You can’t for one minute be thinking of what’s next. It is all about tomorrow. We have to deliver tomorrow.

“We have to be ready to go to until the very last minute again. Dig deep in the moments that you have to, to win these big matches.

“But they are highly motivated guys and they can see the possibility of a semi-final so understandably there’s a buzz about them and they’re excited to take that challenge on.”

Southgate, a veteran of four tournaments as a player and now a manager, shares that mindset and is more excited by the prospect of what awaits rather than what might go wrong.

“We have an opportunity tomorrow to get to another semi-final,” the England boss added. “It’s a positive challenge and that’s how I view it, so the downside for me is irrelevant. It’s about going for it now.

“That’s been my mindset for quite a while and certainly it’s been my mindset through this tournament because you know that there’s always going to be reaction to how we play, as well as the result. It’s the nature of the role that I have.”

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