Thursday, July 18, 2024

Southgate demands England ‘step up’ in Netherlands semi-final at Euro 2024

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Gareth Southgate has conceded that England will need a “step up” in performance against the Netherlands if his team are to secure their place in a first major tournament final away from Wembley.

Speaking before the European championship semi-final tie with the Dutch in Dortmund in west Germany, the England manager said that his team could not expect to win on Wednesday night on current form.

A series of poor performances in the group stage, and a near-death experience against Slovakia in the round of 16 followed by a win on penalties against Switzerland, has provoked heavy criticism of Southgate’s tactics, with even Dutch players describing England’s approach as “defensive”.

Southgate, who was joined by the England captain Harry Kane at a pre-match press conference, said he recognised the frustrations of the fans and pundits but insisted his team was “prepared for anything”.

He said: “We need another step from what we showed in the last game, it’s a step up in quality of opponents and we are ready for that.”

England are looking to achieve back-to-back European finals after losing to Italy at Wembley at Euro 2020. The men’s national team, who won the World Cup at home in 1966, have never appeared in a major tournament final outside England.

Asked how the players were coping with the pressure of the moment, Kane said each player was dealing with the situation in his own way. The Bayern Munich striker said: “I don’t think we speak about it in the dressing room. The ones who have had more experience know what it’s like to play for England in major tournaments. As we’ve been getting better the expectation gets higher and that’s been no different.

“Some will use it in different ways, some will use it as motivation, some will just block it out and focus on what they need to do. Everyone’s different. From a team point of view we know what we need to achieve. We have a really important game, a really tough game we need to be ready for. We’ve prepared for that.”

Harry Kane has scored twice so far at the tournament. Photograph: Lee Smith/Reuters

With up to 75,000 Dutch supporters expected in Dortmund on Wednesday night, England fans are likely to be outnumbered by four to one although the number of fans in the stadium are expected to be similar. In the stands of the Westfalenstadion, the Dutch presence will be most obvious in the famous south terrace which is known as the “Yellow Wall” during Borussia Dortmund games but will become orange on Wednesday night.

Southgate said: “I think our players are used to it. The atmosphere in the stadiums has been great this tournament and it’s added a different feel and intensity to the games. I’m sure our fans will make themselves heard and it will be a colourful occasion. These occasions are why we’re involved in football and we’re looking forward to stepping up.”

The Netherlands will be by far the highest-ranked team – seventh in the world – England have faced after group games with Serbia, Denmark and Slovenia, followed by knockout matches against Slovakia and Switzerland.

The referee for the game, Felix Zwayer, served a six-month ban for his role in a match-fixing scandal in 2006. He has always denied wrongdoing. The England midfielder Jude Bellingham hit out at Zwayer while playing for Dortmund in 2021 after a defeat against Bayern Munich describing him as “a referee that has match-fixed before”. Bellingham was fined €40,000 (£33,800) for his unproven allegation.

Asked about the choice of referee, Southgate would not be drawn into criticising Uefa. He said: “I think everybody knows how I deal with refs, with complete respect for every referee. I know the two guys at Uefa who have been running the refs programme and I think they appreciate the respect we have shown as a team to officials over eight years.

“I think there’s a right way to conduct yourself towards officials and I think that’s very important for the game. So no, I’m not concerned about who the ref is. He will be at a very high standard because that’s the way Uefa make those decisions and the way they monitor games during the tournament. So, for me, it’s not even a consideration.”

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After weeks of dismal weather in the west of Germany, the sun was out in Dortmund as fans of England and the Netherlands filled the bars around in the centre of Dortmund. Martin Sauer, head of the organising team for the Euro games in the city, said he was concerned that the sheer number of Dutch fans could overcrowd the fan zones but not by the threat of violence between supporters.

He said: “We are expecting 75,000 Dutch fans. We think there are 16,000 English fans with tickets for the stadium and a small number of English fans without tickets, but not as big as the Dutch number. I think the ticket holder numbers are really equal between those two but non-ticket holders will be the majority from the Netherlands.

Netherlands fans during the victory over Turkey in the quarter-finals. Photograph: Ibrahim Ezzat/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

“We know that everything is really [tight]. That’s good for a really special atmosphere but it’s also complicated for public transport and for the public viewing and for everybody to find a space where you can where they can watch the game.”

Sauer said there would be a heavy police presence but there were no major security concerns. He said: “Always in every fan group there will be somebody who makes trouble but we are not concerned especially for English fans. We have English fans from club level here regularly in the championship games, and usually it’s no problem.

“They’re very welcome. And we think that the English fans will like the city and will like our bars. The public transport isn’t as big as maybe Berlin or Hamburg or bigger cities in Germany. If you like to use your own feet, it’s really easy to go through the city. If you need public transport, you maybe have to wait some minutes.”

Harvey Brown, 19, a student at Cardiff Metropolitan university, said: “I think it will be well organised here. They are used to Borussia Dortmund Champions League games. They are talking about 75,000 Dutch fans but we hear they will be walking to the stadium from 3.30pm so there hopefully won’t be any problems, especially given how well England fans have behaved so far.”

The new culture secretary, Lisa Nandy, will be at the game as part of a “fact-finding mission” ahead of the staging of Euro 2028 in UK and Ireland.

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