England manager Gareth Southgate has urged his side to “allow everybody to dream” of a European Championship triumph by making a strong start to this summer’s tournament.
Southgate has overseen major improvements since being appointed England boss on a full-time basis in 2016, leading his side to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia and to the last four of the inaugural Nations League tournament a year later.
Having exceeded expectations on those occasions, England now go into a delayed Euro 2020 with a promising young squad that has seen them installed as one of the favourites to win the competition.
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Southgate says his side “shouldn’t be afraid” of saying they want to win the tournament, but that strong performances are required in group-stage matches at Wembley against Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic to justify that attitude.
”I said ahead of Russia that we wanted the country to have pride in the team and I think we achieved that,” Southgate said. “Some of that is about results and some of that is about the way the team are and the connection with the fans.
“Now, of course, if you don’t win the matches, then that pride isn’t there, is the realty. We’ve now been to two semi-finals and we are as keen as everybody else to go further.
“We understand that expectations change. We shouldn’t be afraid of saying we want to go and win. We know there is some improvement for us to do. We’ve started to beat some of the top teams over the last couple of years, we have to do that consistently and if we are to win this tournament the way this draw looks we would have to do that on two or three occasions.
“As a team we’ve got to make it small steps at a time – qualify from the group, get that nailed with a group where there are three very tough games and opponents. Croatia have beaten us in the recent past, Czech Republic have. We’ve done the same to them and we know what the game with Scotland game means for everybody.
“So we have to allow everybody to dream, we want to dream ourselves but we’ve got to make sure we won’t just win because we’re at home, we won’t just win because we’re an exciting team, we’ve got to get all the parts right and that’s got to be our aim.”
North-east offers ‘nice change of environment’
Southgate explained England’s decision to play their warm-up matches against Austria and Romania in Middlesbrough was made largely to avoid spending too much time at their St. George’s Park base.
England will be based at Middlesbrough’s Rockliffe Park training ground as they prepare to face Austria on June 2 and Romania four days later at the Riverside.
Southgate said: ”We basically have three weeks from the last Premier League game to our first group match and the way we’ve worked over the last few years, we’ve always given the players a period of time with their families – I think they need that at the end of the season, psychologically as well as physically.
“Then we’ll go to the north-east, which is a nice change of environment for us. Really good facilities, good people at Middlesbrough. I know that when that was offered to me as an option, that everything there will be as we would like it.
“It means we also don’t spend too long as St George’s. It’s a great base for us, but also I didn’t necessarily want to be here for 40-50 days.
“Last summer we were talking about going away for that prep, that’s not possible now, so to be able to take a game to the north-east, where we haven’t been for a few years, is a great opportunity for us.
“Then we come back to St George’s which we are familiar with, which we can control the facilities, which are first class and there is a feeling we can sort of batten the hatches down, we can have the privacy we need but at the same time maintain the connection with the public through our interviews and our outputs and make sure it’s an environment the players enjoy so that they are able to enjoy their football as well.”
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