Southgate admits torment of being 20 minutes from World Cup final

It gets light not long after midnight in Repino but that is not why Gareth Southgate was up at four o’clock on Friday morning.

Tormented, he could not sleep, his mind replaying every moment of England’s cruel semi-final defeat.

So he got up and watched it again.

He speaks eloquently and convincingly about how this squad will improve, about how they can be proud of what they have achieved in Russia, about the challenges they will now be better-equipped to meet head-on.

But Southgate knows. We all know. What England missed was an opportunity that, for him and this generation of players, might never come along again.


“We are twenty minutes from a World Cup final and 10 minutes from a shootout for a place in the World Cup final,” he says. “That is going to live with me forever, there is no doubt about that.

“I’m conscious I had to raise everybody yesterday but I’m up watching the game at four o’clock this morning.

“You will always have in your mind that it was a massive game to be involved in and to be so close is tough.”

Southgate deals with the anguish in the way you would expect, trying to put the pain of Moscow into the context of his entire campaign.

He explains: “I’m old enough now that I don’t have to beat myself up unnecessarily. When I was a player I had a very simplistic mindset.

“Win, I was good, lose and I was an idiot and nothing in between.

“I’m a lot more rational now. I can see what we have achieved, albeit when you are so close you look back at what we might have done.

“The reality is that we lost a semi-final … but you’ve got to balance that with where do I think this team is, realistically, and what level do I think they are at.

“I think we’ve really got a huge amount out of this group of players and they deserve massive credit.

“If I look at Pickford, Maguire, Trippier … they had a handful of caps each coming into the tournament and they have all performed unbelievably well.

“As so have many others who don’t have huge experience so I am hugely proud of what they have done.”

Southgate has now lost in the semi-final stages of a tournament as a manager and as a player, having famously suffered at Euro ’96

“I feel that team was closer to the finished article and I was younger so I didn’t have that balance and perspective in my life,” he says.

“Now my care is for everybody else and picking them up first and foremost,

“It’s different but no less painful, for sure, but I’ve also got to get everyone else through the next three days and energise them for the game.”


The game is against Belgium for the dubious honour of finishing third.

Southgate, who will be at St George’s Park next week to start preparing for September matches against Spain and Switzerland and even talked excitedly about the prospect of Euro 2020, does not share the widespread indifference to the match, insisting they want to go out on a high.

They will then have an end-of-tour party at their hotel before heading home and, in their luggage, every player can expect a hand-written note from their manager.

He says: “I have done that with the staff and I will do that with the players, at the end. It’s quite nice to receive a letter in this day and age. There’s something special about that.”

They are only playing for the consolation prize in St Petersburg but there is something special about Southgate and this England.

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