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In the latest Sky Sports Football Euros podcast, the panel discuss why England’s quarter-final against Ukraine is a bigger game than facing Germany in the last 16.
England ended a 55-year hoodoo against Germany at major tournaments, having last defeated them in the 1966 World Cup final and beating them inside 90 minutes for the first time.
It was a momentous day for English football, with Gareth Southgate’s side setting up a quarter-final tie against Ukraine in Rome on Saturday evening.
The Sky Sports Football Euros podcast welcomed Sky Sports News reporter Rob Dorsett, Sky Sports features editor Peter Smith and senior football journalist Gerard Brand to discuss the victory at Wembley and beyond…
‘Ukraine a bigger and more dangerous game’
Dorsett: “This for me is the banana skin. Ukraine is a bigger and more dangerous game than England will have in the semi-final. How do the players react from the exhilaration of winning an occasion like that against Germany? Are they going to be a bit cocky?
“I thought it was key that after the game, one of the first things Southgate said to us and the players was ‘don’t celebrate because we’ve won nothing yet and if we lost in the quarter-finals, all of this would have been for nothing’ – and he’s absolutely right about that.
“I don’t think it matters who they play. Whether England go through the quarter-finals or semi-finals depend on how they perform now. The only way they can lose to Ukraine or Denmark or the Czech Republic in the next round is if they’re not at it and make mistakes themselves. That’s a hugely different situation to be faced with and the biggest risk to England not winning this game is England themselves.”
Brand: “I think Rob is right to say the quarters are a bigger game than the Germany game. I think they’re just as big because the fall is bigger, the expectation is now firmly there. The slight difficulty is it’s acceptable to think Southgate was right and justified in how he approached this game, but also that you would want England to go at lesser opposition a bit more.
“But I have faith in Southgate to navigate the quarter-finals properly, although I don’t see them going completely gung-ho. If we’re talking about belief, I think there’s massive belief inside the camp that they can beat anybody. Outwardly showing, it might not seem that way, but I firmly believe that in the camp, they believe they can win this and beat anybody.
“But we saw on a dramatic Monday night that nobody can rest on their laurels in this tournament.”
‘England will be disappointed to not make the final’
Smith: “England will be seriously disappointed if they don’t make the final now. It’s Ukraine in the next round, then Czechs or Denmark in the semi-finals at Wembley with major backing from your home fans in that game.
“Then you take it one step further into the final and who could it be – Belgium Italy, Switzerland or Spain. By the time they get to that point, England will be disappointed if they don’t get to a final on their own patch.
“So then you have to draw the conclusion that England will be disappointed if they don’t win this tournament from this position.
“If England want to be a team that wins major tournaments, they have to have a swagger about them and a certain confidence. If they beat Germany in the style that they beat them, with the control at times, they’ve matched up to some absolute legends – four of the players in that team won the World Cup. These are top players in that Germany side and England have matched them and beaten them.
“They should take some confidence now into that Ukraine game and whether Southgate likes it or not, the expectations are up now. England fans will now expect their team to go all the way and this is what big teams do, they go up against teams they’re expected to beat and they beat them. That’s what England have got to go and do on Saturday.”
Echos of Russia?
Dorsett: “A lot of England fans, including myself, had these exact feelings in Russia. Remember that dead rubber against Belgium and we said ‘great, we’ve lost that, we finished second in the group, we’ve got a much easier route through now’.
But by the time England got to the semi-final against Croatia, they looked absolutely exhausted. So that’s my one concern. We’re all championing this and quite rightly, but this is an away match for England in Rome, in very hot, energy-sapping conditions, with a much quicker turnaround than they had for the previous game against Germany.”
Smith: “Looking back on that draw in Russia, even getting Croatia in the semi-final, England couldn’t have had a better draw, but we just didn’t have the quality.
“But I think now, a few years on and the experience they’ve learnt from that, I think they’re a better team.
“There was something that bugged me before this tournament, when you’d ask what is success for England at this tournament and people would say ‘maybe if we made the semi-finals, that would be a good achievement, just because they made the semi-finals in Russia’.
“But you have no idea who England are going to play along the way. You don’t know if they’re going to finish first, second or third in the group or who they’d meet in the last 16. If they came up against Germany and they played really well and England had valiantly been defeated, you’d take that in its context.
“But if they had instead drawn a much weaker team in the last 16 and crashed out… It’s really hard to say a semi-final is good and anything else before that is not good, or that sort of idea. Actually, beating Germany in the last 16, we now say they’ve got to go all the way.”
Will Southgate change for Ukraine?
Dorsett: “I don’t think he will unleash those players against Ukraine in the quarter-final. I think he’ll switch to a back four, it may well be Mason Mount, who can train with England again, who will come into the midfield and he’ll play with the two holding midfielders.
“Sterling and Kane definitely, maybe Phil Foden, but Bukayo Saka was outstanding again. He doesn’t tend to change his teams too much and I think it’s pretty predictable what he will go with in the next round.
“And the understandable clamour for Jack Grealish, I think people are learning that it doesn’t have to be from the start. If you look at the impact Grealish has made when he came on, he’s got two assists already in the very little game time that he’s had.
“England have never had as long a build-up to a game as they did against Germany. They had an entire week and yes, that was disrupted with Mount and Chilwell not being available, but I think Southgate accepted pretty early on that they wouldn’t be involved, but kept them as part of the group.
“But with the rest of them, he had seven days. He’s never had that luxury as an international manager, so these guys are as well-drilled as they’re ever going to be and it looked like it against Germany.
“They kept it tight for 60 minutes yes, they weren’t very expansive, they weren’t really going for it, but it was exactly Southgate’s game plan – get to 70 minutes, don’t concede too many chances and then bring the talent on to win the game and that’s what they did.
“I think all the players are buying into that mantra, into that game plan, they’re working on it, they’ve got time.
“It’ll be interesting for the next game because there’s a much quicker turnaround and it’s away in Rome, so it is a much different challenge for England now. I wonder if he will bring Foden in for Saka, that’s the sort of change he might make, because there will be some players that are exhausted by the sheer emotion of the occasion as well and they’ve got to recover pretty quickly.”
Smith: “The onus is going to be on England to make the play and clearly will go into that game as favourites. Surely we won’t be changing our formation to try and nullify Ukraine’s strengths, it will be all about how we can attack against them.
“It would be nice to see England take this confidence now and apply it in these quarter-final games. Perhaps we even see the likes of Grealish start for the next one.
“If you come up against a deeper defence, Foden might be the one who can pick his way through that, rather than Saka, who we think of as someone running beyond defences, getting teams that are pushing up turned and going back towards their own goal. Foden just has that cuteness to open teams up.”