Southgate: England ready to make history after bonding over beers and Ed Sheeran


Gareth Southgate has revealed how sharing “a couple of beers” and enjoying a private Ed Sheeran performance helped bring his players together after a difficult start to Euro 2024.

England face the Netherlands in the last four in Dortmund on Wednesday as they aim to move a step closer to winning the competition for the first time in their history.

Pre-tournament favourites England earned their place in the semi-finals with a morale-boosting penalty shoot-out win over Switzerland but their stuttering displays in Germany have been heavily criticised.

Speaking at his press conference, Southgate admitted his players were weighed down by the expectation and external noise surrounding the team during the group stage.

But he is delighted by how they have pulled together and changed their mindset, thanks in part to singer Sheeran’s visit to their training base before the last-16 tie with Slovakia.

“There’s been a definite shift,” he said. “One of the strengths of ours over the last seven or eight years has been less fear, less inhibition.

“But I think that at the beginning of the tournament, the expectation weighed quite heavily and of course the external noise was louder that it has ever been.

“I felt we couldn’t quite get ourselves in the right place. In the end, what was impressive was that the players ground out results and found ways to win.

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“I felt that shifted once we got into the knockout stages and definitely in the quarter-final.

“I felt we saw a better version of us with the ball, freer. I’m not sure any of the messaging changed, but I just felt the group changed.

“You’re now in that moment in the tournament where it’s, ‘what’s possible? What’s achievable?’ Rather than, ‘what might go wrong?’ That’s different for a player or athlete.

“This is now a chance to make history, which we’ve enjoyed doing. It’s a chance to get to a first European Championship final not held in England, it’s the first time England will have ever done that.

“We are trying to break new ground. That’s difficult and it’s complicated but the players have responded brilliantly. You can bond over the resilience that has been built.

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“We’ve been very fortunate. We’ve had Ed Sheeran in to sing and it was great. The players had a couple of beers before the last game.

You can bond in that way but when you’re having to head the ball out of your box in the 92nd minute and you’re trying to find a goal in the 96th minute, there’s nothing stronger than that for building the spirit of the team.

Kane: We have handled the noise well

Captain Harry Kane agreed with his manager, saying: “I think we do a good job of preparing the players before the tournament for what tournament football is like.

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“You have to perform well but there’s more to it. You’re away with one another for a long time. The preparation, lots of time in the hotel, lots of media attention. It’s about dealing with all of it.

“Over the years under Gareth, we’ve handled that well and this tournament has been no different. The expectation has been bigger and the noise a bit louder, but we’ve handled it well.

“Some use it as motivation, some will block it out. We have a close togetherness with the staff and players – all in the same direction.”

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Kane’s form has been heavily scrutinised during England’s run to the last four, despite goals against Denmark and Slovakia, but he is expected to keep his place against the Netherlands and the former Tottenham striker is relishing another battle with Virgil van Dijk.

“We’ve had some really good battles over the years at Southampton and Liverpool – lots of big games,” he said.

“Sometimes he’s won the battle, sometimes I’ve won it. It will be a tough game – a tough opponent. I’ll prepare to make his life as uncomfortable as possible and he’ll do the same to me.

“I enjoy playing against the best players in the world.”

Southgate coy on starting Shaw

The biggest question mark around team selection concerns whether Southgate will include Luke Shaw, who appeared as a substitute against Switzerland following his long-awaited return from injury.

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“All of the players are going into this game in good condition,” said Southgate. “They have recovered well. Over the next 24 hours, we will keep assessing people.

“He [Shaw] made a good contribution [vs Switzerland]. That’s a decision we have to make, whether he’s ready to start.

“We’re happy to have him back. He gives us balance.

“But Kieran Trippier has done a fantastic job – he’s played in so many important nights for us over the last seven or eight years. But also around the squad and how he is. We are very fortunate to have him.”

Southgate gives backing to semi-final referee

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Felix Zwayer will referee Netherlands vs England Euro 2024 semi-final

Southgate insisted the appointment of previously-suspended referee Felix Zwayer for the semi-final is “not even a consideration”, as the England manager backed UEFA’s call.

Zwayer, 43, was given a six-month ban by his country’s football federation in 2006, having worked as an assistant referee alongside Robert Hoyzer.

The German referee was one of the officials who brought Hoyzer’s match-fixing plot to light, with the relatively short duration of Zwayer’s ban a recognition of that contribution. Hoyzer was banned for life.

Later, England midfielder Jude Bellingham was fined by the German football federation after he referenced Zwayer’s involvement in that scandal following a defeat for his old club Borussia Dortmund against Bayern Munich in 2021.

Jude Bellingham appeals to referee Felix Zwayer during Borussia Dortmund's 2021 loss to Bayern Munich
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Jude Bellingham appeals to referee Felix Zwayer during Borussia Dortmund’s 2021 loss to Bayern Munich

Southgate, though, gave his full backing to UEFA’s decision to select Zwayer for the semi-final meeting with the Dutch in Dortmund.

Asked if he had concerns over the referee or had spoken to Bellingham about it, he replied: ” No. I think everybody knows how I deal with referees – with complete respect for every referee.

“I know the two guys at UEFA, (managing director of refereeing) Roberto (Rosetti) and (refereeing officer) Bjorn Kuipers, who’ve been running the referees programme and I think they appreciate the respect we’ve shown to the officials as a team over the past eight years.

“I think there is a right way to conduct yourself towards officials. I think that’s very important for the image of the game.

“So, no, I’m not concerned about who the referee is. He will be at the very highest standard because that’s the way UEFA make those decisions and the way they monitor the games during the tournament. For me, it is not even a consideration.”



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