'I'm so proud of the players'
England manager Gareth Southgate has spoken of his pride at the Three Lions, who he said did an "incredible job" to reach the UEFA EURO 2020 final.
It will be the first time England have ever featured in a senior men's EURO Final, after Southgate's side had to come from behind after Mikkel Damsgaard's stunning free-kick opened the scoring, levelling things up through an own goal from Simon Kjaer before it took a Harry Kane winner in extra time to seal a thrilling victory.
“I’m so proud of the players, it was an incredible occasion to be a part of,” said Southgate, who reached the semi-finals of Euro 96 as a player but went no further.
“The fans were incredible all night. We knew it wouldn’t be straightforward — the game in Rome the other night was so straightforward, and we said to the players that we, at some point, were going to have to show some resilience and come back from some setbacks. We did that tonight.
“I felt we would get there, but I knew it would be a different sort of battle. Denmark are so underrated as a team, they did cause us a lot of problems.”
England have only ever won one semi-final, 55 years ago at the 1966 World Cup on the way to winning the tournament.
And Southgate believes an international hoodoo has been overcome.
“When you’ve waited as long as we have to get through a semi-final, with the players, considering the limited international experience some of them have, they’ve done an incredible job," he added.
“The most pleasing thing is that we’ve given our fans and nation a fantastic night, and the journey carries on for another four days.
“In terms of the team, to come through that sort of a night, we suffered in Moscow on a night like this and we’ve managed to put that right.”
Asked whether his players would be celebrating long into the night, Southgate was keen to turn his attention to the final on Sunday night.
“They’ve had [the celebration], haven’t they? It looked like mayhem on the pitch to me, and I was part of it… We’re in a final, we’ve got to enjoy that fact, but there’s one more massive hurdle to try and conquer.”
The England boss is full of admiration for England’s opponents in the upcoming final. Italy haven’t lost in 33 games under their manager Roberto Mancini, formerly of Manchester City.
Love it, boss! 👏pic.twitter.com/BdZBVNN3Be— England (@England) July 7, 2021
“Italy are a very good side, I’ve thought that for the past couple of years," he said.
"They’ve shown outstanding form, they’ve got defensive warriors at the back who have been through everything, and it’s a great game to look forward to.
“We’ve had three memorable games on the bounce now. We’ve said we want to create memories for our nation."
Southgate said the enormity of overcoming this hurdle will be hard to grasp for the younger players in his team. “The young ones think it’s always like this, I’ve just had to tell Saka and Bellingham that it normally doesn’t work like this," he smiled.
“Finals are to be won. We’ve got to regroup, prepare properly, and recover because tonight’s taken a lot, emotionally, physically. Italy had that as well. They have an extra day to recover but we’ll think about that on the way back to Burton!”