Jadon Sancho could start for England against Ukraine
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England manager Gareth Southgate has sent a message to the nation not to get carried away and start planning for the final of the European Championships, which he has described as being his team’s “Everest.”
As England, who will be watched by millions on television, attempt to secure a second major tournament semi-final appearance in four years, Southgate is set to move to a more attacking back four formation for Saturday night’s quarter-final against Ukraine in Rome.
Southgate revealed that he needed to check on the fitness of Bukayo Saka, who had a “slight knock”, which could open the door to Jadon Sancho to make his first start of the tournament. And Mason Mount is hoping for a recall after returning from isolation.
But Southgate insisted that his selections will not be influenced by the fact four of his players are walking a disciplinary tightrope. Harry Maguire will start, despite, along with Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips and Phil Foden, being one booking away from missing a potential semi-final having already picked up a yellow card earlier in the tournament.
Should England win in Rome, they will face either Denmark or Czech Republic in the semi-finals. But as the nation’s football fans clear their diaries for Sunday, July 11, the date of the final, Southgate insisted nobody should be looking past Saturday night.
Kalvin Phillips is among the four England players walking a disciplinary tightrope
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“We’ve achieved one challenge, but that’s not the Everest we set ourselves, really,” said Southgate. “We want to push on from where we’ve got to now."
“Now, this is the next step, the next opportunity – the opportunity to get to a second major tournament semi-final and you’ve got to go back to Sir Alf’s time to be able to do that.
“It’s another chance for the team to make history. The mindset has got to be about Saturday. Not beyond Saturday. There’s not a consideration in our heads beyond Saturday and making sure we’re prepared for this game with Ukraine.”
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Southgate wants to put his team out on the front foot against Ukraine and dismissed the suggestion that he should make changes purely on the basis of trying to save players who are one booking away from suspension.
“I understand the strategy of thinking that through, but I don’t think there is a team in the world who would do that at this point,” said Southgate. “I have never seen it happen and it is not in our thinking. It would be a bad message for our players and it would be the wrong message for Ukraine. I don’t think we can fiddle around. It would be just about thinking about the future and we should not be thinking about the future at this moment.
“We have been to three semi-finals in 60 years, the thought that we can be resting players to get through a semi-final – I can’t think of a nation that would do that. I don’t remember a nation doing that. It was different in the group phase when we had qualified and knew what we were dealing with. We could strategically do that.”
Paul Gascoigne was famously reduced to having to fight back tears when he was booked in the semi-finals of the World Cup in 1990, which would have ruled him out of the final had England got there.
But Southgate, who was in a similar situation in Euro 96, has no concerns over whether or not his players on yellow cards could emotionally handle the threat of being ruled out of a semi-final tie at Wembley.
“I was on a yellow before the semi-final with Germany and would have missed the final had we ever got there, had I picked up a yellow in the semi,” said Southgate. “So you are aware of it as a player.
“You have these situations in your career when you still have to be committed to the game, avoid unnecessary yellows if you can but accept that you might mistime something. You have to have the same commitment because if you aren’t that committed we are not going to get to the semi-final anyway. That’s the reality. You can’t be thinking of what’s next.
“Our guys are committed to each other. They know where they are at. We have to do everything we can to give ourselves the best chance of winning this game and then a semi final where we will have to deal with whatever situation we are in. If we had won five World Cups maybe we would think differently, but I don’t think we would. I just haven’t seen other teams at this stage of a competition take that kind of approach.”
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Maguire has vowed not to worry about the threat of missing a semi-final and insisted that his fitness is not a concern ahead of his third game in 12 days.
“First and foremost, with that yellow card I haven’t thought past this quarter-final, so I’ll be going into the game playing my normal game,” said Maguire. “It’s not very often you play in a major tournament quarter-final, so for me to look beyond that would be silly.
“I will be playing my normal game because in a quarter-final of a major tournament my objective is to win that football match. If we do win it, when we do win it, then we concentrate on the next game and see where it takes us.
“Regarding my ankle, I feel in a really good place. The rehab and the strength work that I’ve done in the gym through the period off has really benefited me. It is really showing now. Obviously, with an ankle injury you sometimes get setbacks but touch wood I haven’t had a setback yet. Physically, I feel good, mentally I feel ready so I’m looking forward to the game.”