BSP-29 Southgate hopes England avoid World Cup semi-final stage fright




Southgate hopes England avoid World Cup semi-final stage fright

MOSCOW, July 10, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – England manager Gareth Southgate said
his inexperienced side must look to perform at their “regular level” despite
the pressure of playing in a World Cup semi-final.

England face Croatia in Moscow on Wednesday after reaching the last four of
a major tournament for the first time since Euro ’96, when Southgate himself
missed a penalty in a shootout defeat against Germany.

He is now trying to minimise potential distractions as his young team
prepare to take the next step in their bid to repeat the 1966 World Cup
triumph at home.

Southgate told reporters on Tuesday that the most important thing was to
keep things as normal as possible.

“We’ve been tucked away in our base camp preparing the same way,” he said.
“Our preparation for the game has been identical. I think it’s important
there’s consistency leading into matches like this.

“You don’t have to change things, you don’t have to do things differently.
You don’t have to find another level, generally speaking.

“As a player if you can perform at your regular level in these games then
very often that’s more than enough because people can be inhibited in big

Before their arrival in Russia, England had not won a knockout game since
the 2006 World Cup.

They overcame Colombia on penalties in the last 16 in Russia after
conceding a stoppage-time equaliser, before a 2-0 victory against Sweden sent
England through to a first World Cup semi-final appearance in 28 years.

“We came here to enjoy our football. All the way through we have been one
of the youngest teams in the tournament, the least experienced team, but we
were never quite sure how far this team could go,” said Southgate.

“The hunger in the players has been apparent for all to see. We have dealt
with difficult situations in games.”

– ‘Next step on the journey’ –

England thumped Croatia 5-1 at Wembley the last time the two nations met,
in a World Cup qualifier in September 2009, but Ivan Rakitic and Mario
Mandzukic are the only survivors from that match on either side.

With an average squad age of just over 26 and fewer combined caps than any
other participating team, Southgate knows there is still plenty of room for

“We’re going into a semi-final but it just seems like it’s the next step on
the journey,” he said.

“This team is nowhere near the level they’re going to be capable of, partly
because of their age and partly because over the next few years, with us and
with their clubs, they’re going to have more and more big-match experiences.

“So we’re excited about the future but we also want to make the most of the
opportunity we have tomorrow.”

Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson is one of just five players remaining
from the England squad that crashed out of the group stage four years ago in

He will have a central role to play against a Croatia side that relies
heavily on the creativity of Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Rakitic, who plays
for Barcelona.

“I’ve played against Modric a few times, he’s probably one of the best
players I’ve played against,” said Henderson.

“It’s a massive game for us, we all know that, but there’s no need to make
it bigger than what it already is.”

Excitement has reached fever-pitch levels in England, as the country dreams
of Southgate’s team emulating the achievement of Alf Ramsey’s side more than
half a century ago.

“We can take a lot of good things in the past in terms of ’66 and what they
achieved then,” said Henderson. “But it was a long time ago so not too many
of us can remember that far back.”

BSS/AFP/MRI/2351 hrs