GARETH SOUTHGATE reckons England’s players can become football legends today — by lifting the whole nation with a famous win over Germany.
The Three Lions are aiming to win only their second-ever knockout game at the Euros to reach the quarter-finals against their old rivals.
Southgate said: “Every time you pull an England shirt on you have the opportunity to score a goal that will be shown forever and to create a bit of skill or be involved in a match that lives on in the memory.
“That’s the beauty of playing for your country.
“If you think of all the big players in history, there are significant memories in club football, European football.
“But when you picture those great players, it’s normally in an international shirt that their biggest memories are formed.
“That is the case every time you pull on an England shirt. It is an opportunity that few get and these lads have earned it.
“I’m sure they are going to relish that. These sorts of landmarks are always opportunities.
“They have got an opportunity to go beyond where some incredible players and fantastic servants of England have gone before.
“And that is always an opportunity to be grasped.”
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A win against Germany today would arguably be England’s biggest victory since 1966.
And boss Gareth Southgate says he has actively embraced the horrible history of English tournament failures to inspire his young team to potential glory.
Take a look through England’s victories in knockout matches since Sir Alf Ramsey’s men ruled the world 55 years ago and the list is relatively brief and unimpressive.
Paraguay, Belgium, Cameroon, Spain, Denmark, Ecuador, Colombia and Sweden — and the Belgians were not a significant force when Bobby Robson’s side defeated them at Italia 90.
World Cup quarter-final wins over Cameroon and the Swedes could be seen as more significant but to defeat a major footballing nation in a knockout match is something England have done only once since Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy.
That win against Spain, on penalties in 1996, was England’s only ever knockout success at the Euros.
And Southgate admitted: “That’s an incredible record, really. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot as a team for the last four years.
“This team has that opportunity. In previous eras we have always talked about the past, teams and their records and baggage, and everything else.
“And there’s no reason for these boys to feel that way.
“Most weren’t born when a lot of those games happened. It’s an irrelevance for them, so I think we’re all looking forward to this game — a big opponent with excellent pedigree and great experience.”
Southgate is adamant he will not be giving a Churchillian speech today, especially as he is unsure whether his team know much about Sir Winston Churchill.
He said: “Churchill would be another figure that probably doesn’t figure highly on the players’ radar!
“You always have to give the right messages and give the players the right belief.
“But for myself, you always have to be authentic as a leader.
“It’s pointless trying to be something you’re not and put on an act, as players smell that a million miles off.
“The best managers I played for were themselves. They didn’t try to be someone they weren’t.”
When Germany were confirmed as England’s next opponents, after a chaotic finale to their ‘Group of Death’ last Wednesday, Southgate went back to his room and watched all three of their group games back-to-back.
Yet he insists he sleeps soundly before even the biggest matches. The England head coach said: “I sleep well the night before a game because the work is done.
“But in the days before that you want as much information as you can and your head is spinning with ideas so you can be awake at different hours.
“Sometimes I sleep, then wake up in the night, then I’ll go and watch something for an hour or two, go back and have another couple of hours’ sleep. That’s pretty normal for me.”
Southgate, as we are all tired of hearing, was part of all that bad history when he missed a spot-kick in the semi-final shootout defeat by the Germans at Euro 96.
Yet he claims even victory this evening would not make up for that nightmare — because he can never make it up to his team-mates from Terry Venables’ squad.
The former defender added: “I always want to win matches, give the country excitement, enjoyment and a warm feeling when they go to work the next morning.
“That’s the opportunity we’re blessed with. But I can’t give closure on what’s happened in the past because I can’t give closure to the team-mates I played with.
“OK, I’ve got an opportunity to do something now but the team-mates I’ve played with are the ones I think about the most for that fixture.
“So I can’t do that, that’s something I have to accept. I wouldn’t want to claim I can heal everything for everybody else.”