Reece James and Luke Shaw both missed out on the Croatia match
Gareth Southgate has urged his England players to seize the day as he prepares to change his full-backs and send his team out on the front foot against Scotland on Friday night.
And Southgate has also revealed that he does not believe he would be England manager now if it were not for the victory over Scotland in 2016, when he was in caretaker charge.
Having beaten Croatia in England’s first game of the European Championships, Southgate wants his team to clinch qualification from the group stages by beating Scotland at Wembley.
Reece James and Luke Shaw are preparing to replace Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier in the full-back positions to give England more attacking threat in wide areas. Despite Harry Maguire’s insistence he is now fit, Tyrone Mings is expected to continue partnering John Stones in the centre of defence against Scotland.
England’s players were left stunned when Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest ahead of the Croatia game, but, with the Denmark midfielder now recovering, Southgate believes the incident has also offered a reminder not to let big opportunities pass.
“When we saw what happened with Christian Eriksen the other day, it was just another reminder that you have got to go for things in life and give them the best possible shot,” said Southgate.
“At least when you’re finished, you don’t have regrets about things you did not have a go at or performances that were inhibited. We have got to go for it.”
Southgate acknowledged, not for the first time, that tournament performances define England managers and he is relishing the role after initially having doubts over whether he wanted it permanently when he first took over on a temporary basis from Sam Allardyce in 2016.
The 3-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Scotland in November of that year was vital for Southgate being given the role on a permanent basis less than three weeks later.
“If we had not beaten Scotland – you’re right – you would not be speaking to me here,” said Southgate. “Also, that moment for Scotland was a difficult one – they were in the middle of a bad run of form and that fell quite kindly for us as a fixture.
“The win did not convince me – perhaps it persuaded everybody else to think, ‘Blimey, we’ve tried everything else, perhaps we might give this bloke a go – he took the under 21s, let’s go from there!’
“What persuaded me was that the players were willing to adapt to the approach that we had and embrace the way we wanted to play and the way we wanted to work. The win just allowed that to happen.
“On a personal level, by the time we got there I felt it was a job I wanted even though I was never going to say that publicly. But I knew having worked with the players and having had a closer insight into the workings of the job it was something I wanted to go for in my life.
“I would have regretted not having had a go at it and would never have known what might have been possible. That is not a good position to be in, in your life.”
Having already reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, Southgate is under pressure to at least reach the last four of the Euros and he added: “Tournaments define England managers, there is no doubt about that. If you look at our history, most of our win records are reasonably similar but the tournament performances define you. We are aware of that and know they are the things that really matter for the country and really matter for the team.”
Southgate hinted at his planned changes in the full-back positions, with James in line to make his first appearance in a major international tournament, when assessing how best to try to take advantage of Scotland’s weakness and counter their strengths.
“Definitely, every opponent plays in a different style and tactically has a different approach,” said Southgate. “Scotland for the majority of their games have played with a back three and of course they may change, but you are preparing with that in mind.
“And the spaces with the ball are different as well, so that is always the balance of we’ve got a good squad. We want to involve people in the tournament, we’ve got to show trust in them. But also when you’ve had a win there is something about rewarding players for that achievement and keeping continuity and those are the decisions I’ve got to make ahead of the game.”
Tartan Army descends on London
The Football Association stepped up efforts to stop fans booing players taking the knee as it called for unity ahead of England’s highly-charged showdown with Scotland.
Jeers were quickly drowned out by cheers at Wembley for the defeat of Croatia on Sunday, but the FA is anxious to avoid any potential flashpoints at a fixture which dates back to 1872.
On Thursday the FA expressed gratitude to Scotland players, who will also take the knee pre-kick off as a "showing of solidarity" during their first meeting at a major competition since 1996.
“On behalf of the manager and the team, please support England in the right way, before, during and after the fixture,” said an FA statement intent on calming any further shows of dissent against the anti-racism demonstration.
“This includes showing respect to each national anthem before the game. We are playing at home and we need the supporters to fully get behind the team. We are very pleased that both England and Scotland players will demonstrate unity when they take the knee ahead of kick-off. We thank the Scottish team for this showing of solidarity as together we highlight our common values of respect and equality."
The governing body added that fans should "respect the players when they take the knee" as "they continue to highlight and challenge discrimination, in all its forms". “Football is about celebrating pride and passion, not shouting abuse or discrimination," a statement added.