ENGLAND icon Stuart Pearce saluted Gareth Southgate’s young lions last night — saying they are more world-class than the Euro ’96 heroes.
The steely defender — dubbed “Psycho” in his heyday — roared: “Now go on and lift the cup.”
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He reckons the current squad is stronger and better equipped than the side both he and Gareth played in 25 years ago.
Stuart, 59, told HOAR: “They have the same fire and will to win we had back in ’96 — but this squad is stronger with even more world-class players.
“I’m sure we have enough to beat the Danes — and Italy or Spain in the final — but we should steel ourselves for two tight, tense and nerve- jangling games if we go all the way.
“People said I was passionate but I see the same spirit in every single one of that squad and it will take a hell of a lot to stop them now at Wembley.
“I have the honour and the pleasure to work with some of these lads when they were younger and can tell you that they will give absolutely everything they have for their country.
“They’re as proud as I was to wear the shirt and are blessed with incredible talent which is blossoming at exactly the right time.”
Stuart said he has been talking tactics with Gareth before games and sending good luck messages.
He also paid tribute to Southgate’s man management and the faith he had shown in stars who had faced criticism on the road to the semi-final against Denmark.
He explained: “Gareth has been a great friend for years and I am so proud of what he has done for the team and for the nation.
“I have been phoning him occasionally as it’s sometimes good to be able to bounce opinions around.
“But his team selection so far has been impeccable, as shown by the fact that we have yet to concede a single goal at the Euros.
“Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling have come in for some stick from some quarters but Gareth knows they are great players and has shown great faith in them.
“And they have rewarded him by coming alive at the business end of the tournament.
“We have a great blend of youth, experience and professionalism as well as the passion you need to win when the chips are down.
“In my day we probably had 11 players in the squad who were truly world-class but Gareth has at least 16 with fantastic options on the subs bench.
“I was England’s Under-21 coach from 2007-13 and worked with Raheem, Harry McGuire, Jordan Henderson and Kyle Walker who are all great, mature talents.
“When you add young stars like Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden to the mix, you know you have something very special.
“I expect them to come good at this tournament and they have a great chance of lifting the cup — we’re in great shape right now. But just you watch us go at the World Cup next year — I’m sure Gareth has one eye on that prize as well.
“I love to see the mentality of players like Harry Kane who will never settle for second best.
“Having come this far he doesn’t want heroic failure or a fall at the final fence — he wants to get out there and win and lift the cup for England and our fantastic fans.
“Our team will also have the huge advantage of 60,000 home fans cheering them on at Wembley — I’ve played in that atmosphere and can tell you it’s something you never forget. I’m sure a lot of emotion will be pouring out after the difficult days we’ve been through.”
The Three Lions are aiming to end 55 years of hurt by lifting their first trophy since the World Cup Final in 1966.
Stuart and Gareth were in the Euro ’96 team — alongside the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Alan Shearer — which heartbreakingly crashed out on penalties in the semi-final against Germany.
Southgate missed the spot kick which sent the Germans through. Hardman Stuart is remembered for his screamed celebration when he scored in a penalty shoot-out against Spain in the Euro ’96 quarter-final. It was the moment he atoned for missing a spot kick against Germany at the Italia ’90 World Cup.
Stuart said: “I can assure every England fan that there is now no better team in the world than ours if games come down to a penalty shoot-out.
“Gareth has incredible talent to choose from in this squad and will shuffle the pack to secure a win in normal time if possible. But his players will be well drilled and determined to cope with any situation — and if it goes to penalties they’ll be ready.”
TalkSPORT radio star Stuart has been thrilled by the outpouring of joy England’s success has generated as we look forward to the end of Covid restrictions.
Reflecting on England’s last-16 win over Germany and the quarter-final thrashing of Ukraine in Italy, he said: “What has happened at Wembley and in Rome could not possibly have come at a better time for our country. We’ve had 18 months of hell, living in fear of our lives and heard stories of tragedy.
“We’ve been locked in our homes, locked out of football stadiums and pubs and seen our lives change like never before.
“But our football team has come alive at the same time as our country. I can’t tell you what a lift it will give to everyone to see us win at Wembley in a week’s time.
“It will make me so proud and pleased for Gareth and the squad — every last one of them will have played their part. We’ve waited a long time for this and I know they won’t let us down.”