Euro 2020: Southgate's redemption for England, 25 years later

In 1996, Gareth Southgate was the national scapegoat as England crashed out of the home Euros in the semifinals; 25 years later, England's win against Denmark marked his redemption.

Blessed with probably the best attacking talents assembled in an England squad for a major international tournament, the pressure has always been on Southgate to deliver the promise of a first major final since 1966. - GETTY IMAGES

At the end of a draining, absorbing Euro 2020 semifinal at Wembley, Gareth Southgate was the redemption story of the night. As the England manager walked over to the home support, you could draw a parallel to the image of a dejected 25-year-old Southgate walking back to the centre circle after his failed penalty kick in another semifinal 25 years ago at the same venue. In the 1996 semifinal at the Old Wembley against Germany, Southgate was the national scapegoat as England crashed out of the home Euros.

Despite England’s steady transformation into tournament favourite, Southgate’s words have carried pain, seeking atonement for all those he had let down. On Wednesday night, as he threw a couple of awkward fist pumps towards the England supporters, the emotional outpour of relief was palpable.

Blessed with probably the best attacking talents assembled in an England senior men’s squad for a major international tournament, the pressure was always on Southgate to deliver the promise of a first major final since 1966. But his propensity to leave the handbrake on had sowed seeds of doubts on many minds and there were all too familiar criticism of the team’s composition and style of play.

Southgate’s socially aware footballers were also branded Marxists and were told to keep their ‘wokeness’ and politics aside. Southgate stood by his players’ will to express their beliefs despite risking the ire of the home support. The boos towards their stance in taking the knee have now largely been drowned by the cheers.

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He has found balance between defence and attack with the 4-2-3-1 set-up where the back four is screened by the hard-working Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice. Despite suggestions of a switch to a back-three in the lead-up to the Denmark semifinal, he opted for the latter to allow his best-attacking players Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling to have their say.

In the first half, Kane and Sterling ran the show with England skipper dropping in between Denmark’s centre-backs and midfielders to pick up the ball and feeding Sterling and Bukayo Saka behind the defensive line. Denmark offered plenty of energy and threat on the counter, and breached England’s defence for the first time in the tournament through Mikel Damsgaard’s exquisite free-kick.

But Southgate’s England didn’t panic. Sterling drew a big block from Kasper Schmeichel, who enhanced his reputation on the night with crucial saves to keep Denmark in the hunt. A few seconds later, Kane picked up the ball in the middle third, turned, and picked the run of Saka, who teed up for Sterling’s run through the middle and the ball was turned into the net by a helpless Simon Kjaer.

In the 1996 semifinal at the Old Wembley against Germany, Gareth Southgate was the national scapegoat as England crashed out of the home Euros. - GETTY IMAGES

 

Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand made the first move around the 60-minute mark by removing Kasper Dolberg and Damsgaard, two of Denmark’s exciting attackers, for more solidity in midfield. From there on, till the end of the two extra-time halves, it was all England as it racked up 15 shots to Denmark’s one.

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With England unable to find the breakthrough in regulation time, Southgate went for the proverbial ‘throwing the kitchen sink’ move to force their way into the final by introducing Phil Foden and Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish. And here, they lasted only 12 minutes together and it was just about enough. During that spell, England flooded Denmark’s half with wave after wave of attacks until a tiring Denmark offered the slightest of cracks and Sterling took it, by going to the ground and winning England a penalty.

Kane fluffed his penalty but duly put away the rebound off Schmeichel, before reeling away to the roars of a rapturous home crowd. Rather than going for the kill, Southgate reverted to type by removing Grealish at the start of the second extra-time for defender Kieran Trippier.

Even when England had the opportunity to hit Denmark on the break, its forward drove towards the corner flag with nearly 10 minutes left on the clock. But it was not all about defending in numbers as England saw out the game with a minimal threat from Denmark. England saw 57 percent possession and allowed only a single shot from distance to justify the manager’s call.

There remains the final frontier of Italy in four days’ time. But the semifinal win will always be a night to remember for Southgate and England.

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