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Southgate dispels tactics, lineup doubts as England advances

June 30, 2021 GMT
England manager Gareth Southgate, center, speaks with Steve Holland during a training session at St George's Park, Burton upon Trent, England, Wednesday June 30, 2021 as the team prepare for their upcoming Euro 2020 soccer championship quarterfinal match against Ukraine. (Nick Potts/PA via AP)
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England manager Gareth Southgate, center, speaks with Steve Holland during a training session at St George's Park, Burton upon Trent, England, Wednesday June 30, 2021 as the team prepare for their upcoming Euro 2020 soccer championship quarterfinal match against Ukraine. (Nick Potts/PA via AP)
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England manager Gareth Southgate, center, speaks with Steve Holland during a training session at St George's Park, Burton upon Trent, England, Wednesday June 30, 2021 as the team prepare for their upcoming Euro 2020 soccer championship quarterfinal match against Ukraine. (Nick Potts/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP) — Now basking in adulation after knocking out Germany, England coach Gareth Southgate might seem universally adored across the nation.

Not quite.

The goals that sent England to the European Championship quarterfinals following a 2-0 victory over Germany came from players who Southgate faced calls to drop.

Raheem Sterling entered the team’s opening game at Euro 2020 having being unable to score at four previous tournaments.

Just why did Southgate persist with Sterling on the left of the front three? Even Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola had cooled on starting the 26-year-old winger in the team’s run to the Premier League title.

Sterling’s ability to take on opponents — darting down the wings, gliding through defenses — has the potential to create goals. That happened twice in the group stage, when Sterling scored England’s only goals to secure two wins. And again 75 minutes into the last-16 match against Germany on Tuesday.

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“Raheem … has to prove people wrong all the time,” Southgate said. “And Raheem has been immense for us over three, four years. He knows we’ve got faith in him. We’ve got that trust in him and his performances have been electric, right from the start.”

There’s another outfield player who is doubted at times, but is always there for Southgate: Harry Kane.

The clamor to drop Kane was growing when he not only failed to find the net in the group stage, but managed only one shot on target.

More is expected from the 2018 World Cup’s Golden Boot winner, whose goals in Russia helped England reach the semifinals at the tournament for the first time in nearly 40 years. He was also the leading scorer in the Premier League last season even as Tottenham limped to a seventh-place finish.

Where was his finishing touch at Euro 2020? Was it fatigue or distraction from effectively going public with his desire to leave Tottenham ahead of the tournament. After fluffing a chance to put England in front against Germany — there was a heavy touch of the ball while trying to control it in the penalty area — he did finally score from close range in the 86th minute.

It was just when English nerves needed steadying.

“For Harry, it was a really important moment,” Southgate said. “When you’re a center forward it doesn’t matter what else you’re doing in the game, you need those goals.”

That it was created by Jack Grealish was telling. The winger’s status has been elevated since not appearing in the opening win over Croatia and only coming off the bench in a 0-0 draw against Scotland. Despite starting in the win over the Czech Republic, he had to settle with coming on in the second half against Germany.

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Initially, Bukayo Saka was favored by Southgate for his pace on the right wing. But it was Grealish’s name being sung by England fans before he came on. He then played a part in the exchange of passes that created the opener for Sterling and provided the cross for Kane.

“I love it. It’s part of the game and if you’re getting talked about you’re obviously doing something well, aren’t you?” said the 25-year-old Aston Villa player who only made his England debut last year. “It’s weird because I usually have these fans booing me but when they are cheering my name like this and singing my song there’s nothing more I want to do that pay them back with goals and assists.”

England isn’t conceding goals at Euro 2020, keeping a fourth straight clean sheet despite questions about Southgate’s switch to a back three from a four-man defense.

“We wanted to be aggressive all over the pitch,” England center back Harry Maguire said. “We wanted to be brave on the ball, take the ball and we wanted to be brave off the ball and try as much as we can to play one versus one and have that pressure on the ball and not give them too much space out wide, which they have punished teams in the group stage for.

“Credit to the coaching staff and Gareth to recognize that. The game plan worked brilliantly and we executed it really well.”

And in all, maybe it showed that Southgate knows how to get the tactics right going into Saturday’s quarterfinal match against Ukraine.

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