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Southgate promises no complacency as England plot to banish Iceland demons

Five years on, the scars are still fresh enough in the memory to serve as a brutal warning.

Gareth Southgate recalls the aftershock and fall out from when England were knocked out of the Euros by Iceland in 2016 which was regarded as one of the worst humiliations in the country’s football history.

The similarities are there for all to see because England will be red-hot favourites again when they face Ukraine who are 24th in the FIFA world rankings, Iceland were 34th, both surprise packages in a tournament with nothing to lose.

And fresh from laying to rest the demons of the past against Germany in the last 16, England must ensure they are ready for a fresh challenge and to make sure they do not suffer another catastrophic defeat.

England suffered Euros humiliation when they were beaten by Iceland in Nice five years ago

The mood has been so high after beating Germany that it would be easy to start thinking about the semi final or the final and England’s glorious chance to win a first major trophy since 1966.

But Southgate insists they will be prepared for every eventuality and what will happen if they go behind or are under pressure in Rome on Saturday night. After all, it would be so typically England to get past Germany – only to fall at the next hurdle.

“I do think that you shouldn’t avoid negativity because we do talk as a team about how we are going to be if the opposition score, for example,” said Southgate.

“Very often you prepare teams for 0-0 and you prepare your game-plan for 0-0 and the tactical element of it but the psychology changes with events that happen during the game and if you avoid discussing that I think that can breed anxiety when you are in the middle of the game.

“So when you’ve talked those scenarios through as a group, which we did before the last game in particular, then everybody knows how we are going to deal with it, they can make eye contact on the pitch and they are better prepared for those moments.

“It’s rare you go through 90 minutes of football where you are not under pressure at some point or you are having to deal with set-back or things have gone against you, decisions, whatever they might be and I think that’s good preparation.”

Gareth Southgate has promised England will show no signs of complacency against Ukraine
Gareth Southgate has promised England will show no signs of complacency against Ukraine

Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling started that game against Iceland; Marcus Rashford, John Stones and Jordan Henderson were on the bench and defeat cost Roy Hodgson his job and made him public enemy No1.

It was a low point for England but perhaps also a turning point as Southgate, having initially been reluctant to take charge, assumed control after Sam Allardyce’s brief and ill fated reign.

Since then, England have been on the up with a World Cup semi final, now a chance to reach another and the confidence and belief has never been higher within the squad.

Southgate was in France back in 2016 working for UEFA’s technical team, he described the defeat as “painful” for Hodgson but a “seminal” moment for England and it is remarkable to think that from the lowest point they could now win their first ever Euros in the next tournament.

Southgate said: “Every time we speak to the players we are tapping into the psychology of the group, their experiences. A lot of this team have been through this process in the recent past and they know what that has taken.

Gareth Southgate celebrates his England side beating Germany 2-0 in Euro 2020
Gareth Southgate celebrates his England side beating Germany 2-0 in Euro 2020

“They’ve been involved with big matches at their clubs and they know how hard it is to win any game of football. You’ve got to make sure you do the right things to win because whoever is ranked higher doesn’t always win, we saw that with France against Switzerland.

“There’s any number of lessons in a tournament about how things can turn so quickly. We’re not in any way, shape or form complacent. We’ve got to stay composed, but not fearful. We’ve got to be on the front foot.

“There’s a danger when you hold something in your hands in life – you’ve got half of something and you don’t want to lose the half, rather than reach out for the whole. We’ve got to take the next step forwards.”

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