England’s Southgate says they are playing ‘freer’, will Dutch miss the train?

July 10 – Ahead of their semi-final clash with the Netherlands, England manager Gareth Southgate believes that, with a weight off their shoulders, the best is yet to come for his side at Euro 2024. 

In Dortmund, England will face their highest-ranked team yet at these finals after encounters with Serbia, Denmark, Slovenia, Slovakia and Switzerland.

The Dutch are seventh on the world ranking and gunning for their first Euro final since 1988 when they won the competition on German soil, defeating the USSR in the final. In the last eight, the Three Lions shrugged off some of the stinging criticism with a penalty shoot-out win over Switzerland and Southgate thinks his team are ‘freer’ now.

“One of our strengths over the last seven, eight years has been less fear, less inhibition,” said Southgate. “But I think at the beginning of the tournament, expectation weighed quite heavily and of course, the external noise was louder than it has ever been.

“I felt we couldn’t quite get ourselves in the right place. In the end, what was impressive was the players ground it out and found ways to win. I felt that shifted once we got to the knockout stage, definitely in the quarterfinal – we saw a better version of us with the ball. We’re freer.”

Southgate however understands that the demands on his team will be even greater in the semi-finals as England look to reach back-to-back European finals after claiming the runners-up spot at Euro 2020. England won the 1966 World Cup at Wembley, but the team has never reached a major final on foreign soil. He said: “We need another step from what we showed in the last game, it’s a step up in quality of opponents and we are ready for that.”

Like England, the Netherlands have enjoyed a benign route to the last four, defeating Romania 3-0 and Turkey 2-1 in the knockout stages. The Dutch believe they can pull off a win and will be backed by an estimated 75,000 fans in Dortmund, many of whom will be without a ticket for the match.

However, the team had to change plans at the last minute when their Deutsche Bahn service to Dortmund was cancelled. The squad had to fly in and missed pre-match press duties.

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