Southgate talks up 'outstanding' Switzerland


Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate

Gareth Southgate knows stumbling England have to raise their game if they are to stand a chance of beating "outstanding" Switzerland in Saturday's Euro 2024 quarter-final.

A trip to Dusseldorf awaits after Jude Bellingham came to the rescue with a 95th-minute overhead equaliser against wily Slovakia on Sunday before Harry Kane sealed a 2-1 extra-time win.

England were seconds away from their tournament coming to an end in humiliating fashion, only to squeak through to a fourth successive major quarter-final under Southgate.

After an alarming performance in Gelsenkirchen, far better will be needed from the Euro 2020 runners-up against the Swiss on Saturday.

"You build on the spirit that they’ve shown, the belief that they’ll have gained from that," Southgate said.

"Equally, we’re not naive. We’re going to play a team that have looked outstanding, not just in this tournament but for quite a while as well. That’s going to be a big tactical challenge for us.

"We know that the level of our game will need to be higher, but there was a spirit and there was a togetherness that has been building.

"We’ve had a lot of problems to solve through this whole lead into the camp, through the tournament.

"We’re putting a plaster over different things and giving young players opportunities. We’re somehow finding a way.

"I can imagine how everybody is going to react to that, even though we’ve won. But we’re still in there and the one thing that can’t be questioned is the desire, the commitment, the character."

Young star Bellingham epitomised that spirit when acrobatically striking home in stoppage time to salvage England’s campaign before hitting back at those talking "rubbish" about them afterwards.

"He was 21 yesterday and he’s doing unbelievably well," Southgate said. "I understand his world better than a lot of people, I think. His world is different to pretty much every other 21-year-old in the world.

"He’s had an incredible impact on his clubs, his national team already, but he’s still a young man and he is going to say things, react to things, in a way that young people will.

"But what he can provide us are these moments where he grabs things by the scruff of the neck and his character, and his personality creates moments that can change a big game.

"That’s what he has given to us again. Two hugely important goals for us in this tournament already. He’s a great boy, he’s super to work with, wants to do well.

"Also, I think he knows that we’re trying to help him through all of these challenges and hurdles that the different environment of the national team brings because it is a different environment."

Few understand that better than defender John Stones, who has gone from perennial Premier League champions Manchester City to his fifth major international tournament.

The 30-year-old defender said after the Slovakia win that England could "kind of take the handbrake off" after Sunday’s emotional win – comments that seemed to surprise Southgate.

"(Last night) was an example of cup football," he said. "Sometimes cup football is about character, heart, the spirit.

"We didn’t defend well at the start and we didn’t play through their press, which was really well organised, and we struggled to break that first line of pressure.

"That wasn’t a handbrake. That was we had a problem that we couldn’t solve getting the ball into the second line of the pitch and there’s a big difference.

"I think the game against the Swiss will throw completely different tactical problems – just as difficult, just as complex and a different solution to solve.

"But we’ve got a few days to recover and that’s going to be important because the energy levels that were required, whether we’ve got any injuries, we need to assess.

"Obviously we lose Marc (Guehi) for the next game as well, so plenty for us to think about."

England centre-back Guehi is suspended after collecting his second booking of the tournament, but Luke Shaw could be available having been out since February with a hamstring issue.

Southgate admitted England have "a little bit of problem with our balance without a left-footed left-back" but decided against bringing him on in Gelsenkirchen.

"I think that’s got a chance," he added. "I mean, we could have put him on, but he’s done so little full team training that that would have been a huge risk.

"A bit more training, a little bit more evidence for us of the level that he’s at will be helpful."

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