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Gareth Southgate reflects on England journey ahead of Iceland reunion









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England’s reunion with Iceland four years on from Euro 2016 presents Gareth Southgate with the opportunity to reflect

England’s reunion with Iceland four years on from Euro 2016 presents Gareth Southgate with the opportunity to reflect

To this very day, four years on from the lowest night in England history, the very utterance of the word Iceland sends shivers down Three Lions spines.

The humiliatingly-abject exit at Euro 2016, the celebratory Icelandic ‘Thunder Clap’ and the resignation of Roy Hodgson threatened to scar England’s next generation before their international careers had even got off the ground, but then Gareth Southgate came along.

Iceland vs England

September 5, 2020, 4:30pm

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With the national team at an all-time low, Southgate’s promotion to England manager was meant to steady the ship, but in the following four years he has been the architect of generational highs, namely guiding the team to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Speaking ahead of England’s reunion with Iceland in Saturday’s Nations League opener, live on Sky Sports Football, Southgate reflected on events in Nice back in 2016 and just how far England have come under his watch.

“The biggest assessment I took from that night was that young players were not as patient as we needed them to be when put under pressure on the ball,” he exclusively told Sky Sports.

England's starting XI for the Euro 2016 game with Iceland

England’s starting XI for the Euro 2016 game with Iceland

“You could see the correct decision-making disappear as the night went on; people taking shots while off balance or not in the right positions. You have to be, and we have started to be, more patient.

“There were a lot of inexperienced players in that team, Roy blooded players like Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling. At that stage those lads were young in their international careers and were also still learning in their club careers.

“Slowly they have started to win things with their clubs, so their confidence levels are higher, and we’ve had a good two to three years with England, where the players that have come in have won at youth level.

“We have built belief and rebuilt that connection with the fans, which is so important. When I see the quality of young players coming into the squad, it is really exciting.”

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England captain Harry Kane says he has learned from their embarrassing Euro 2016 defeat to Iceland and that the team has improved since four years ago

England captain Harry Kane says he has learned from their embarrassing Euro 2016 defeat to Iceland and that the team has improved since four years ago

‘You cannot waste a day’ – Southgate reflects at 50

While the fallout from Euro 2016 was seismic, it pales into insignificance compared to the events of 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic not only bringing football to a halt, but the entire globe.

Nearly 10 months have passed since England last took to the field and Saturday’s trip to Reykjavik could well have been the first outing for Southgate’s newly-crowned European champions, had Euro 2020 not been postponed for a year.

Southgate turned 50 on September 3 and that personal landmark, coupled with the suffering that has gripped the world, has brought the opportunity placed in front of him and his England players into sharp focus. It is one he intends to seize.

“I was happy and depressed in equal measure to reach that landmark,” Southgate added.

Southgate replaced Roy Hodgson after Euro 2016

Southgate replaced Roy Hodgson after Euro 2016

“My biggest reflection over the summer, when you saw how people were affected and the reality of how life can go so quickly, was that you cannot waste a day, you’ve got to embrace it and make the most of every challenge. That has been uppermost in my mind over the last few months.

“When you are a coach, a manager or leader in any sports team, you are constantly looking for ways to improve.

“The biggest thing for me is hunger, because we lost six months of our careers. It made me realise that these opportunities can go so quickly and that I didn’t want to waste these opportunities to succeed and improve the team.

“The same applies to the players, their international careers and the chance to play for England will go very quickly, so we’ve got to maximise it.

“We are building towards the big target next summer [Euro 2021], but in the games we’ve got coming up we have a chance to win a Nations League and a chance to play against some top sides in the autumn.

“We’ve got to make sure we make the most of every camp and ensure we are working at the highest level.”

Fresh faces into England fold

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England manager Gareth Southgate says he would have no hesitation in giving senior debuts to Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood against Iceland or Denmark based on what he has seen in training

England manager Gareth Southgate says he would have no hesitation in giving senior debuts to Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood against Iceland or Denmark based on what he has seen in training

England’s return has provided Southgate with the opportunity to give fresh faces valuable exposure to senior international football, with the likes of Jack Grealish, Mason Greenwood, Phil Foden, Conor Coady and Ainsley Maitland-Niles earning their first call-ups.

It is an experience Southgate, who made his England debut against Portugal in 1995, remembers fondly.

“I can remember walking into my hotel room and putting the training kit on the first time I worked with England,” he recalled.

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Jack Grealish admits he was devastated not to be included for England squads in the past, but says he is now over the moon to be selected, and views it ‘like a trial’

Jack Grealish admits he was devastated not to be included for England squads in the past, but says he is now over the moon to be selected, and views it ‘like a trial’

“I remember looking in the mirror, looking at the badge and thinking about everything that had happened to get there, so I know exactly how they are feeling, how their families, the coaches and schoolteachers who coached them when they were young, everyone, feels.

“I hear a lot of nonsense about international football compared to club. To represent your country in any sport at international level is the ultimate accolade and achievement.

“That has been emphasised when we have spoken this week, it’s emphasised by the commitment of the players who have been with us regularly and want to be with us this week. That is always refreshing.

“We’ve brought good quality players in who add to the competition for places and add to the level of training.”

‘I had to do the right thing by Maguire’

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Gareth Southgate plans to bring Harry Maguire back into the England set-up next month having withdrawn the defender from this squad following his Greek court case

Gareth Southgate plans to bring Harry Maguire back into the England set-up next month having withdrawn the defender from this squad following his Greek court case

Southgate’s difficult task of managing England’s Nations League campaign in a post-lockdown world took on added complexity in the wake of Harry Maguire’s incident on the Greek island of Mykonos.

The Manchester United defender was included in Southgate’s initial squad despite his ongoing trial for assault, resisting arrest and attempted bribery.

Maguire was eventually withdrawn after being found guilty and sentenced to a suspended 21-month prison sentence, a verdict he will contest at a retrial, but Southgate stands by his decision to publicly support his player, who maintains his innocence.

“Everybody knows now what I knew then, and that this was a far more complicated situation than was initially reported,” he said. “It was important to support the player.

“Having spoken to the player I knew what had happened and had absolutely no reason to leave him out. I knew we ran the risk of having to leave him out later that day because of the timing of the trial, but as far as I was concerned, I had to do the right thing by the player.

“He’s had an incredible ordeal, the first four days holiday and then 10 dealing with life-changing experiences. He will be stronger for those experiences.

“But he needs a break now, he needs to relax and get himself away. I think he needed that switch off and he’ll be able to go back to his club, and absolutely we would be looking to involve him in October.”

How to watch Nations League on Sky Sports

You will be able to watch all 162 Nations League matches live on Sky Sports – plus the semi-finals, third-place play-off and final. Games will be shown across our main channels and via the red button.

You can watch Iceland vs England on Sky Sports Main Event and Football on Saturday, and Denmark vs England on the same channels on Tuesday.

Wales vs Bulgaria and Republic of Ireland vs Finland on Sunday will be shown on both Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Football.

Czech Republic vs Scotland and Northern Ireland vs Norway will be shown on Monday.

For a full rundown of Nations League fixtures and where to watch them on Sky Sports head to our fixture page.

If you’re out and about, you can follow all of those Home Nations games on the Sky Sports website and app, where we’ll have minute-by-minute updates and show you the goals as they go in.

We’ll also have highlights of every game involving the Home Nations and the best of the other Nations League fixtures available too.

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