Southgate calls for improvement


Published: Tuesday 23rd June 2015 by The News Editor

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England Under-21s head coach Gareth Southgate has told his players they need to improve if they are to progress to the European Championship semi-finals and beyond.

This is the Young Lions’ fifth successive appearance at the finals, but they have exited the previous two editions at the group-stage juncture.

Things have gone better this time around, though, and victory against Sweden last time out – their first finals win in six years – means progress to the last-four is assured should they overcome Italy on Wednesday.

The Azzurrini sit bottom of Group B but Southgate is not being lulled into a false sense of security, highlighting the need for improvement at the Ander Stadium.

“You can see in both groups that nobody has managed to win two matches,” the Under-21s boss said on the eve of the game. “That’s where we’re at.

“We’re at the last-eight of major competition and there shouldn’t be a lot between the teams. You’ve got to earn everything that you get.

“We’ve got to look at have we created enough clear-cut openings because I don’t think we’ve missed glaring chances at all.

“We have got to make sure the service is right, got to make sure that although we want to dominate progression and dictate games that we’re not toothless at the end of it.

“That balance is important for us – we were five games away at the start, now we’re three games away from the opportunity to be European champions.

“How do we get better? Because we will have to be better and that’s what we’ve discussed over the last 24 hours or so.”

Southgate is extremely confident that England have more gears to come and believes a place in the June 30 finale in Prague is entirely feasible.

“We’re always looking for perfection, always looking to improve, but we recognise this is going to be an Italian team we respect,” he said.

“They have some individually talented players, they’ll have a collective spirit which Italian teams always have.

“They’re a big footballing nation so they’re not to come and roll over. We’re well aware of that, but we have to believe in ourselves and our ability.”

Italy are the only nation in the Czech Republic without a senior international in their ranks, whereas England can welcome back one of their five on Wednesday.

John Stones missed the opening two matches with suspected concussion, but is available again after passing the relevant protocols relating to head injuries.

“We’re never sure with Stonesy whether he is groggy or not,” Southgate said, referring to the Barnsley-born defender’s broad South Yorkshire accent. “I don’t quite know how the doc works it out.

“He’s fit and available and obviously he is a top player, so I’ve got a decision to make in that respect because we’ve let one goal in and the defenders – as I knew they would – defended with great heart and spirit.”

One definite change will come further up the field after Alex Pritchard suffered ankle ligament damage against Sweden.

Jesse Lingard, scorer of Sunday’s vital goal, will likely take his place, but whether the kits are there for the players is another matter entirely.

“Other than the kitman, who went down yesterday, everyone else is fine,” Southgate said, smiling. “We’ve had a bit of fun at his expense.

“It is some sort of stomach upset. We don’t know why. I’ll protect him from an further embarrassment.”

Published: Tuesday 23rd June 2015 by The News Editor

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