England manager Gareth Southgate was full of adulation for his wards after their impressive 2-0 victory over Sweden in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia quarter final game decided in Samara on Saturday afternoon.
Two headed goals by Harry Maguire and Bamidele Alli gave the Three Lions a deserved win although goalkeeper Jordan Pickford also made telling contributions to send England to their first World Cup semis in twenty-eight years.
In getting to the semi-finals, Southgate became only the third English manager to achieve that feat, a humbling achievement for the former Middlesbrough boss.
“It’s an incredible privilege to be the England manager anyway so to be able to take the team this far and knowing the people that have done it in the past makes me feel more privileged,” Southgate told journalists after the game.
“We’ve got to this point because the collective have been so strong. We played an opponent whose identity is clear and whose togetherness at times have been too much for us to handle over the years. To get to this stage is through their hard work and the collective effort,” stressed Southgate.
Many England fans had feared that the team could suffer in terms of fitness after they were pushed to their limits by Colombia in their round of sixteen clash at the Spartak Moscow Stadium. Southgate believes their success is now a sign of real resilience for his side.
“To come on the back of our last game where we had to get to our depths emotionally and physically and still able to control the game and withstand the physical test is a sign of the resilience for this young team who are really maturing.
“We are a team who are still improving. We know where we are and we are having success because everybody is working so hard on the pitch.
“We are not the finished article. We don’t have world class players get but lots of good young players prepared to be brave with the ball, trying to play the right way and now showing mental resilience as well over the last few weeks.”
Southgate’s young team – the second youngest squad in Russia after Nigeria – will face Croatia in their semi-final contest at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Wednesday, starting from 9pm local time (7pm in Nigeria).