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Gareth Southgate using criticism as ‘fuel’ in England’s bid for Euro 2024 glory

Defiant Gareth Southgate is using relentless ridicule, hurtful personal criticism and the beer cups thrown his way as fuel in his attempt to lead England to Euro 2024 glory.

Among the favourites to go all the way in Germany, the Euro 2020 runners-up are now just one victory away from becoming the first English men’s team to reach a major final on foreign soil.

Saturday’s penalty shoot-out triumph over Switzerland secured a third semi-final in four tournaments under Southgate, who has dealt with intense scrutiny and criticism this summer.

Supporters made their anger known after Group C draws against Denmark and Slovenia, with beer cups even thrown at the manager after the latter stalemate.

Gareth Southgate with his arm around Harry Kane after the captain took a tumble during England's match against Switzerland
Gareth Southgate (left, with Harry Kane) has vowed to “keep grinding” amid the off-field noise (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“Look, I took this job to try to improve English football, to try to give us nights like this,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live when asked about his celebrations on the pitch.

“I can’t deny then when things get as personal as it has that does hurt. I don’t think it’s normal to have beer thrown at you.

“But we’re in a third semi-final in four tournaments, and I think we continue to give people fantastic memories. So we’ll keep grinding, we’ll keep fighting, and we’ll keep enjoying this journey.”

Southgate knows better than most the highs and lows that come with representing England, having missed a key penalty in the Euro 96 semi-final shoot-out loss to Germany.

Pushed on whether he was hardened to criticism by now, Southgate said: “Look, I can’t deny that some of the personal nature, you know…

“This is a job where you get ridiculed, and your professional capability is questioned beyond belief, and I don’t think it’s normal to have beer thrown at you either.

“But I’m fortunate that my life’s taken me through a lot of resilience-building and it’s made me more determined and I’m just using it as fuel.

“I know where I want to take the team to, and the team need to see me strong in those moments as well, otherwise that messaging that you’re giving them on what they need to be, it doesn’t ring true.”

England now take on the Netherlands in Wednesday’s Signal Iduna Park semi-final looking to make back-to-back European Championship finals and ultimately go one better than three years ago.

Southgate says there has been a definite “mindset shift in what we feel is acceptable as a team, where we want to end up”, which explains why he will not get carried away by making a third semi-final.

“This isn’t where we want it to end – you don’t necessarily want to speak about that too much,” the England boss said.

“It is an unusual achievement for even the most successful nations but these guys, they’ve shown more than being able to just play, and navigating tournaments.

“You need lots of other qualities – it is that resilience, that ability to stay composed when you go behind in games, or when momentum’s against you, winning three penalty shoot-outs out of four.

Trent Alexander-Arnold (centre) celebrates with England team-mates after scoring the winning penalty
Trent Alexander-Arnold (centre) celebrates after scoring the winning penalty (Adam Davy/PA)

“It should put England in a good place, but that’s the future – we’ve got a good week ahead of us.”

An improved performance is needed if they are to make next Sunday’s Berlin showpiece, but Southgate dismissed those criticising his team’s displays.

Put to him that England, like fellow semi-finalists France, have not been “easy on the eye”, he retorted: “Well, I’m sorry for that, but our intention is always to play well with the ball.

“In football you have an opponent that’s trying to stop you, and these are not normal football matches.

“These are national events with huge pressure, with really young men in the middle of it. Our team has been under enormous pressure from the start and they’re doing so well. So well.

“I thought they showed moments. I think Phil (Foden) had one of his best games for us, looked really free.

“We’re not able to score a load of goals at the moment, but we’ve played three teams that play back five, very well organised defences.

“Pitches are a little bit bobbly, so you sometimes need the extra touch, and as you have the extra touch the space is gone.

“None of it is easy. None of this stuff is easy. But we’re in a third semi-final in four tournaments, and for the staff and players that have been involved in all of that, that’s a pretty good achievement. But it’s not where we want it to end.”

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