World Cup: Collective spirit at root of Three Lions' journey '“ Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate believes togetherness and drive has been a winning combination for his eager squad, with even their Euro 2016 humiliation providing a platform as England reached the World Cup semi-finals.
Roy Hodgson’s men were humbled by Iceland two years ago, sending the national game into a tailspin that only worsened when new boss Sam Allardyce abruptly exited.
Yet there could be no safer pair of hands than Southgate, whose quiet revolution has been as rapid as it has been remarkable.
Just 21 months after taking the hotseat, initially on a temporary basis, England will face Croatia for a place in the World Cup final having beaten surprise package Sweden 2-0 in the quarter-finals in Samara.
“We are a team who are still improving,” said Southgate. “We know where we are. “We are having success because everybody is working so hard, everybody is working hard on the field.
“We are in this position because guys that are in the squad like (Gary) Cahill, (Phil) Jones, (Danny) Welbeck, (Nick) Pope, (Jack) Butland, (Danny) Rose, the older ones, have been exceptional in their mentality, their attitude to support the team, to train every day.
“Even though they’ve not had as much game-time as they would have liked, they are as much of a reason why we are where we are.
“I think that collective has been key. All of the support staff, all of the players are really tight.
“We’ve built that and to get through the two games we’ve had this week needed all of that because we’re not the finished article.
“We don’t have renowned world-class players yet, but lots of good young players who are showing on a world stage that they’re prepared to be brave with the ball, try to play the right way, have shown some mental resilience as well over the last few weeks.
“We know that in years to come, they are going to be stronger.
“But Saturday was a huge opportunity for us and it was not something we wanted to miss out on.”
“This group is tighter than previous generations in Southgate’s opinion, thanks to bonding in the development teams and an ability to put club rivalries aside. Then there is the improved big-game experience, with the England boss thankful to predecessor Hodgson for being bold enough to give young talent a chance at Euro 2016.
““They didn’t have big-match experience and under pressure they suffered,” said Southgate. “I think Roy took a lot of criticism for that, but he was brave enough to put a lot of these young players in – and without that experience, we wouldn’t have had a day like today because they’ve learned from that.
“With young players, you’re going to suffer at times. You’re going to have days when they’re not able to cope with things or adjust to things. “And there’s no doubt that the experiences of two years ago have got a lot of these lads – Dele (Alli), Eric (Dier), Harry (Kane), (Kyle) Walker – all on the pitch (in a better place).”