Tuesday 11 December 2018

England boss Southgate seeking win against Belgium after Germany’s ‘surprise’ exit

Roberto Martinez’s side reportedly favour finishing runners-up in Group G given the seemingly preferable route to the final.

England manager Gareth Southgate spoke to the media in Kaliningrad on Wednesday evening (Adam Davy/PA)
England manager Gareth Southgate spoke to the media in Kaliningrad on Wednesday evening (Adam Davy/PA)

By Simon Peach, Press Association Chief Football Writer, Kaliningrad

England boss Gareth Southgate insists Germany’s shock World Cup exit underlines why he will not be attempting to plot an easier route against Belgium on Thursday.

The anticipation for the Kaliningrad clash has tapered off somewhat after the Three Lions’ 6-1 win over Panama on Sunday ensured their progress to the last-16, alongside the Red Devils, with a game to spare.

The managers will make changes for the Group G encounter in a bid to keep key men fresh, despite the fact England and Belgium are currently level in terms of points, goal difference and goals scored.

Roberto Martinez’s side reportedly favour finishing runners-up given the seemingly preferable route to the final, but there is no such talk from Southgate.

“We think that we need to keep winning football matches,” he said when asked about his approach, two years to the day since the humiliating Euro 2016 exit to Iceland.

“We want to breed a mentality that everybody in our squad wants to constantly win.

“We’ve not won a knockout game since 2006. Why we are starting to plot which would be a better venue for our semi-final is beyond me, really.

“We have no idea who, when or where we will play in the next round, but we’re pleased that we’re in the next round.

“But, first and foremost, I think it’s really important that we’re building a team that I think everybody at home can see are passionate to play for England, want to win every time they go out, and are improving all the time.

“I think we’ll see that again tomorrow and I am really looking forward to seeing us play again.”

Watching their side again is not something Germany fans will be able to do this summer after the reigning champions were dumped out by South Korea.

“Of course I’m surprised,” Southgate said moments after their exit was confirmed. “I was here last summer for the Confederations Cup and they brought a young team, they also won the Under-21 finals.

“But in this tournament I think they’ve been ahead for about a minute and a half of their three matches.

“It’s been unusual to see them struggle as much as they have, but the level of all the teams is strong.”

Southgate believes the Germany result shows that “anyone is vulnerable on any given day” as England look to win all three World Cup group games for just the second time.

Asked if the Germany result underlines the madness of attempting to plot their own route, Southgate said: “Yeah, you can’t take anything for granted. The margins are so fine within the matches.

“We’re watching Argentina last night, we were watching Portugal and Spain the evening before – one decision at one end of the pitch, and a decision within two minutes – the situation in the group changed completely.

“That’s what’s brilliant about tournaments. That’s what makes them so exciting – that you just don’t know what is going to happen.

“Even before today, we were saying there’s been some great games but all the top teams have got through. Well, actually now they haven’t.”

Progress is not an issue for England but Southgate kept his cards close to his chest in terms of selection, confirming Eric Dier’s starting role amid questions over Harry Kane’s participation.

“This is a great chance for the guys to get match minutes, match sharpness against good quality opposition,” the Three Lions manager said.

“I think the level of the game will be high – higher than perhaps if there weren’t changes given both teams are through.”

Southgate was more forthcoming on his approach to discipline given fair play could decide the Group G winner.

“If I go and headbutt Roberto in the last five minutes, then you’ll know that maybe we’re taking a different approach to getting through,” he said with a smile.

“We’re always talking to our players about discipline on the pitch, avoiding conceding unnecessary free-kicks, and part of the discipline of being in the tournament is to minimise yellow cards because you want to have players available for the future.

“We want to win the game. That would mean we top the group and we would go into whatever game we go into moving forward.”

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