Gareth Southgate has challenged his England players to create a piece of history by beating France in the World Cup quarter-final on Saturday. The manager is acutely aware of how England have never won a knockout tie against an elite-level nation at a major tournament away from home.
Southgate has overseen six of England’s 15 victories in knockout football, the most recent against Senegal here on Sunday to set up the mouthwatering clash with holders France.
Southgate was in charge at the last World Cup in Russia, when England beat Colombia and Sweden in the knockout rounds, and at Euro 2020, when his team got past Ukraine in a quarter-final staged in Rome. All of England’s other games were at Wembley.
The country’s other knockout wins away from home have come at World Cups against Paraguay (1986), Belgium and Cameroon (1990), Denmark (2002) and Ecuador (2006).
“We’ve made quite a bit of history over the last four or five years – not all of it good – but that’s the great challenge,” Southgate said. “When you go back through the tournaments, you do see the teams that have knocked England out. We haven’t been able to do that [win an away knockout against elite opposition] so that’s the next test for this team.”
Southgate says that the belief of his players is growing, especially when they consider their runs to the World Cup semi-final in Russia and the final of Euro 2020.
“We have a lot of experience of these moments and they know that they’ve had to win games in different ways; they’ve had to come from behind in big matches,” Southgate said.
“What we talked about against Senegal was keeping the relentless pressure going, not sitting back when we were ahead, making sure that we kept the intensity of our game. We’ve got to do that now against the world champions.”
It is all a far cry from the days of Fabio Capello, one of Southgate’s predecessors, or any number of former England managers. Capello once said that his players felt fear when they wore the shirt, particularly at Wembley.
“There have been lots of moments when to play with England is difficult,” Southgate said. “It’s a different sort of challenge to your club. It’s far more scrutiny. So you have to be able to handle that. When we’re selecting players we’re looking at their ability to handle that mentally as much as anything else.
“The young lads that have come in are showing that. But you never know until they are in these moments how that’s going to be. We had a lot of caps on the pitch against Senegal, even the younger ones, because we’ve blooded them early.”