Keeping The Dream Alive

Success On A Tightrope Earns Semi-Final Place

Gareth Southgate….leading England into another semi-final.

One week to go in Euro 24….will England be in Berlin seven nights from now? Might they even be on that stage at the end – the one that is hastily assembled for the trophy and medals presentation?

A campaign that has attracted much criticism and hit no sustained heights is nevertheless rolling on into the tournament’s final few days.

It’s semi-final no 3 for England under Gareth Southgate – the thoroughly decent man whose tactics and substitutions continue to bring a level of scrutiny out of keeping with the general achievements of his 100 matches in charge.

Shortly before Bukayo Saka’s equaliser last night, questions were asked by BBC TV commentator Guy Mowbray about whether the manager was being reactive rather than proactive by waiting until Switzerland took the lead late on to make a triple substitution.

The fact his counterpart had started to make his changes at 0-0 seemed briefly to be used as another stick with which to beat Southgate, although there should be no doubting the delight of the commentary team or the studio experts at the final outcome.

Following the tension between the different parties after the criticism that accompanied the draw against Denmark, this clearly was a night for even the broadcasters to wear hearts on sleeves.

Certainly, England have played much better in exiting tournaments – the games against Germany in 1990 and 1996, Argentina in 1998 and Portugal in 2004 spring quickly to mind – than they have in five matches on the European mainland this summer.

The lack of creativity, given all the attacking talents at our disposal, is as surprising as it is disappointing.

But the side are getting the job done, just, and keeping us all enthralled and hopeful that this might yet be our year.

I was in a room in Devon when Colin Lee said three games ago that we should switch from playing with a back four to using three central defenders.

Colin Lee – food for thought from afar.

But the late-1990s Wolves manager also predicted, as did his Torbay-based good friend, Dean Edwards, that England still had it in them to go a long way in the tournament.

Given that Southgate considered last night’s performance as our best by some way in Germany, it is hard to see him now moving away from his deployment of wing-backs, unless a horses-for-courses policy convinces him that that would be playing into the hands of some particular opponents.

And well done to the manager, among all his accomplishments, for apparently ridding us of the stage fright that past players (including himself 28 years ago!) seemed to be afflicted by when knock-out games were still level at the end of extra-time.

Now penalty shoot-outs are our friend, who knows what riches might still lie ahead?

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