'We all want to be loved': England coach Southgate savors Euro 2024 semifinal win after criticism

Wed, Jul 10, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

'We all want to be loved': England coach Southgate savors Euro 2024 semifinal win after criticism

DORTMUND, Germany (AP) - Gareth Southgate has faced non-stop criticism as England's manager at Euro 2024. Reaching the final could rekindle a love affair with the team's supporters.

A coach once idolized by his team's fans - and with the most consistently successful record of any England manager - had been the target of a volley of plastic cups from disgruntled fans at one game, and criticism from British TV commentators over his cautious approach.

Wednesday's 2-1 win over the Netherlands in the Euro 2024 semifinals might change all that. Southgate's team played a more open, attacking style for much of the game, and his decision to take off captain Harry Kane paid dividends when substitute Ollie Watkins scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner.

"We all want to be loved, right? When you're doing something for your country and you're a proud Englishman, when you don't feel that back and when all you read is criticism, it's hard. So to be able to celebrate the second final (after Euro 2020) is very, very special," Southgate said, paying tribute to England's traveling fans.

"If I hadn't been on the grass, I'd have been watching, celebrating like they were. We are kindred spirits in many ways but of course I'm the one who has to pick a team. So to be able to give them a night like tonight, it's very special."

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Southgate was once seen as someone who reconnected England with its fan base, making them fall back in love with the team.

Supporters sang of Southgate being "the one" and the vest - or waistcoat -- he wore at the 2018 World Cup became one of the iconic symbols of his first major tournament in charge.

But a loss on penalties to Italy at home in the Euro 2020 final seemed for some to show the limits of his cautious tactics as England tried and failed to defend an early 1-0 lead.

At Euro 2024, England's path to its semifinal game against the Netherlands featured some games that were hard to watch - England didn't have a shot on goal until deep into added time against Slovakia in the round of 16, and the 80th minute against Switzerland in the quarterfinals. Both were crucial goals that kept England's hopes alive.

Until Wednesday, Southgate's most notable experiment in Germany was one that backfired, deploying right back Trent Alexander-Arnold as a central midfielder in the opening 1-0 win over Serbia and 1-1 draw with Denmark.

England faces Spain in Sunday's final, one game away from what would be its first men's trophy since winning the 1966 World Cup on home soil.

"The only reason I took the job was to try and bring success to England as a nation and try and improve English football. To be able to take the team to its first final overseas, I'm immensely proud of that," Southgate said.

"We play the team who have been the best team in the tournament and we have a day less to prepare so it's a huge task. But we're still here and we're fighting."

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AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

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