Gareth Southgate urged England to give themselves the chance to win their first trophy in 52 years and admitted he will be using the dismissive comments of some Croatian players about his team to spur them on to next summer’s inaugural UEFA Nations League finals.
A win against Croatia at Wembley today would qualify England for the semi-final next June and the England manager said that the words of Tin Jedvaj, Croatia’s match winner against Spain on Thursday night, will be relayed to his players.
Croatia can also finish top of the group if they beat England, a result which would see the Three Lions relegated to the second tier of the competition, League B. A scoring draw will see Spain qualify as top with England relegated, while a goalless draw would see Croatia relegated and England second.
Jedvaj, who scored twice in the 3-2 win against Spain which gave Croatia their chance of topping the group, said: ‘In Russia, we proved we could beat them without any problems and that they aren’t better than us.’
And speaking to The Mail on Sunday, Jedvaj added: ‘I think England in Russia disrespected us. They were 100 per cent
ready with all this famous “football’s coming home”, that they are winners. We didn’t like this and we still don’t like this, because we don’t like it when someone disrespects us.’
Southgate said he reminded his England side that former Sweden international Hakan Mild had dismissed the England players as ‘spoilt children who earn a lot of money’ when asked about Jedvaj’s comments during the World Cup.
‘Whenever people speak, you give the opposition the opportunity to use those words as they see fit,’ said Southgate. ‘There were some comments from Sweden in the summer that we definitely used to our advantage. And you can steer that in any way, because half the players thought it was a current Sweden player and it wasn’t, so I wasn’t going to argue with them!
‘You always have to be conscious of how your words can provide motivation to the opposition. But for Croatia, it’s about how our mindset is. We’ve got to play bloody well. They’re a good team and, with and without the ball, we have to be spot on to beat them.’
And while having the chance to win a trophy would not quite end the nation’s 52 years of international agony, Southgate believes England cannot be too choosy about their tournaments.
‘It’s not a European Championship or a World Cup but it’s good habits to get into. We want to win big matches and matches where there is a bit more pressure and more emphasis.
‘These are really good experiences for the team and wherever it sits we won’t know. When they started to have a European Championships many years ago, a lot of teams didn’t enter and these things evolve. The idea of a competition where all the best teams are playing against each other I thought was an exciting concept. We won’t know until time passes where it sits.’
Harry Kane also insisted that a win today was an opportunity to build on the momentum generated by the run to the World Cup semi-final. ‘It is a massive game,’ he said. ‘I touched on it earlier but no one knows how big this competition will be in the future but is a great opportunity for us to reach a semi-final.
‘A 2pm kick-off (4pm SA Time), so I’m sure it allows a few more fans to get there and watch. We are looking forward to it and I’m sure it will be a great atmosphere and hopefully we can reach another semi-final.
‘I’ve had a bit of experience of big games at Wembley with Spurs, in the Champions League with 80,000 people on the side and singing. I want to feel that feeling with England. That will definitely be the case if we win the game. I’m excited for it. I’m looking forward to it. We know it’s an important and big game for us. We’ve got to show we’ve come a little bit further from the World Cup and show what we can do.’Daily Mail