Gary Neville says Gareth Southgate’s England deserve their shot at Euro 2020 glory after a “mesmerising” night at Wembley and admits Gareth Southgate’s crop of 2021 has gripped him.
England came from behind against Denmark on a night of high drama and tension as Harry Kane’s extra-time goal – a rebounded shot after his penalty was saved – sent the team through to their first major final for 55 years.
Neville admits England’s new date with destiny is a day he thought might never come but believes Southgate’s players deserve their chance to end decades of hurt against Italy on Sunday.
“It’s incredible,” Neville told Sky Sports News.
“It’s a day that you sometimes never think will come through all the pain and dismay we’ve had in tournaments over the years, but we’ve finally got to a final.
“The atmosphere at Wembley was absolutely amazing. Gareth Southgate said it was the best atmosphere he’s seen at the new Wembley.
“Obviously, he was at Euro 96 for that Holland game where we beat them 4-1 and it was special against Holland, special against Spain in the quarter-finals, but last night it seemed more special.
“Maybe it was because I was in the crowd and I was up on that second tier. You were in amongst it and also the fact we’ve had no real fan presence in stadiums for 18 months, it just felt like it was a massive outpouring of emotion.
“It was mesmerising at points in the game and even pre-match. I’m not surprised that in the first half an hour the players were a little frantic and didn’t really demonstrate composure in their performance.
“They were a little bit affected but you couldn’t not be. The noise around you was just absolutely incredible.
“It’s okay to say football players should remove themselves from the atmosphere and the emotion but they had been feeling it for the last two or three days. They’ve had families and friends ringing them and they’ve obviously got into the stadium and they are down there by the pitch, and you can just feel it.
Then, they did settle down after half an hour, but the crowd were an absolute joy and a dream.”
‘The players deserve this’
Neville says he was blown away by the “mesmerising” atmosphere at Wembley and admits the current version of this England side has moved him.
“I’ve watched England many times over the last 10 years and I’m normally quite cold about football. Sometimes I’ll get a bit worked up about Man Utd games, but I watched the England vs Germany game last Tuesday and I felt quite emotional during that match.
“Maybe it was just the fact that 25 years ago I was sat there in the crowd. I didn’t play in the semi-final because I was suspended and watching the team I was thinking about how many times we had come out on the wrong side of these types of matches and how many times is it us that have the bad headlines the morning after.
“Just seeing those lads overcome Germany last week, I did feel quite emotional. Then, [against Denmark], it was honestly mesmerising. It was spine-tingling being in that stadium.
“I grew up adoring Manchester United and loved playing for England. So, for me, I always loved my country. I loved playing for England but never really got to the point whereby it gripped me like this has in the last seven to 10 days.
“I loved watching the team in Russia, but this is obviously completely different being in England. It’s so special, especially with the fans not being in the stadiums in the last 18 months.
“I just think it’s the way the team and the players have conducted themselves and the way in which they have behaved over a period of time now and performed.
“Last night, like everyone else, I am absolutely overjoyed and delighted that we won but it actually wasn’t the most important thing.
“It’s the fact I genuinely trust the manager that we’ve got. I genuinely think the players are a good bunch of lads who love playing for England, who have removed all the cynicism and cliques that I was part of for many years with England.
“So, credit to them. They deserved what they got because of the way in which they have handled themselves. Not just on the pitch, but off the pitch as well.”
‘Never a penalty in a million years, though!’
Denmark boss Kasper Hjulmand was very critical of the decision to give England a penalty for a foul on Raheem Sterling in the first half of extra-time.
Neville agrees it was a harsh decision – but thinks England would have gone on to win the match anyway.
“Never a penalty in a million years,” said Neville.
“I always think, what would the headlines be, how would we feel this morning, if we were on the other end of that penalty?
“We’d be absolutely devastated.
“But I genuinely think that team would have succeeded without that penalty. I think it would have done something different and got that goal.
“When (Kasper) Dolberg and (Mikkel) Damsgaard went off for Denmark, the game changed completely, and they lost their legs.
“I think the goal would have come.
“It was never a penalty, it was really soft, but I’m glad we got it!”
‘Southgate made right call on Grealish; The players trust him’
Jack Grealish came off the bench in the second half, before being replaced but Neville says the decision was typical of Southgate’s ability to make tough calls.
“It was a tough decision because of the stigma that goes along with a subbed sub.
“It wasn’t a tough decision in terms of the football call or the tactical call. It was the absolute right thing to do. Grealish has been absolutely outstanding the whole way through this season and I love him to bits, but he was the right player to take off.
“He was struggling to get into the game from an attacking perspective and from a defensive point of view over on the left, he’s not as strong as the rest of them.
“It wasn’t a difficult call from a football point of view, but it was from an emotional point of view. But Gareth has proven many times during this tournament that he will make the tough decisions for the better of the team.
“And because he’s got the trust of the players and the respect of the players, there’s no nonsense. He made the right call for the group; he made the right call for the country and he made the right call for Gareth Southgate and his job because he had to get a win.
“He would have been criticised heavily if we hadn’t beaten Denmark, so he had to make the right calls and he’s proven he’s ruthless and clinical.”
England had to come from a goal down after Mikkel Damsgaard’s free-kick but Neville’s fellow Sky Sports pundit, Jamie Carragher believes their triumph after that setback will be character-building.
He said: “When the Denmark goal goes in it creates panic. It was a great goal and the first free-kick we have seen in the tournament, but England were always going to need to go through some adversity, whether it was in the semi-final or the final because it’s almost been a perfect progression.
“Either conceding the first goal, having to go to a penalty shootout or even getting a player sent off, there are difficult things you have to overcome if you want to win a tournament or a title or a cup competition.
“Italy have been through it with Spain and also the game against Austria. They were very fortunate with an offside decision as well so you need these things to go for you and I always felt something would happen that England would have to overcome.
“I think that it is a really big hurdle they’ve overcome and I wasn’t too nervous when [the Denmark goal] went in because I just felt England would have to do this either against Denmark or in the final on Sunday.
“You’ve got to come through tough moments if you want to win things and that was a big one for England.
“How quickly England got the equaliser was important too. If Denmark had got in at half-time with a lead, then worry would have set in.”
Carragher admits England’s progression to Sunday’s showpiece has surprised him.
“It’s massive because I didn’t think England were capable of getting to the final.
“I thought getting to the semi-finals would be a great achievement for this squad before the tournament, and that was looking at the draw and who we were pitted against in the last 16.
“I thought it was going to be really difficult, whether we faced Germany, France or Portugal, and not since 1966 has an England team not just got the final but beaten a major nation in a knockout game.
“That’s what we did against Germany and we’ll have to do it again to lift the trophy against Italy.”
Redknapp: Southgate has surprised me with selections
Jamie Redknapp says Southgate has been strong enough to make some surprising calls during his tenure – and it has paid off so far.
The pair were team-mates in the England squad who reached the Euro 1996 semi-finals – and Redknapp says even then Southgate was showing some of the traits which have made him such a success as a manager.
“He was always the sensible one in that Euro 96 squad but that wasn’t hard, if I’m honest!” said Redknapp.
“He’s certainly a thinking man, not necessarily more than anyone else but, let’s put it this way, he wasn’t in the dentist chair. He was one of the players that stayed behind and was pretty sensible.
“Gareth was a great trainer and a good footballer. He knew his strengths, knew his limitations, but was always a thinking man and that’s why he’s done so well with this squad.
“He’s lucky he’s got some really good young players because it doesn’t matter how good a manager you are, if you haven’t got the tools to work with, you’ve got no chance, and I think this is a really strong generation of players. There are a lot of good young players that are wanting to learn.
“I think we also have to give a lot of respect and almost a bit of gratitude to the managers that these players are working with.
“A lot of them work every day with Pep Guardiola [at Manchester City], Thomas Tuchel [at Chelsea] and managers that have so much success, so they are learning from some of the best coaches in the world.
“Gareth is reaping the rewards for that and we are lucky we have got this group of players.
“But we’ve also got a manager who is so calm and sound of mind that he knows what he is doing.
“He’s surprised me with how strong he’s been with some of the decisions he has made.
“Some of the teams he has picked I’d have never picked them, never, and a lot of football people that know the game inside out would say the same.
“So, you have to say you’ve got everything right, so far. So, fingers crossed he can do that again in the final.”
Drink it in… England are in a major tournament final for the first time since 1966 after their extra-time win over Denmark at Wembley in semi-final of Euro 2020.
Kate Burlaga is joined by Rob Dorsett, Pete Smith and Nick Wright to discuss an historic night, and whether this ‘new England’ side can go all the way against Italy on Sunday.