Gareth Southgate insisted that England Under-21s could still break their miserable run of two successive group stage exits in the European championships, despite a defeat to Portugal in their first match in the Czech Republic.
The Under-21s lost against an impressive Portugal team 1-0, a Joao Mario goal, and must now beat Sweden in Olomouc to have any chance of progressing. Southgate said that the country’s dismal record in the tournament – England have not won a game at the last two competitions in 2011 and 2013 – was “irrelevant” to the current group of players.
He said: “What has gone on in the past is irrelevant to this group of players. They have to keep belief in what they are doing and the way they play. We can do one or two things a bit better but we aren’t a million miles off where we need to be. We told the lads at half-time it was looking like there would be one goal in this game and to make sure it was ours. We didn’t do that but I can’t fault what the players have done.”
He added: “I think we’ve played the best team in the group here and run them very close. They have some excellent players as we have got. And from what I have seen we can still have faith in what we do. Now of course the margins for error are much smaller. But that is what being in a tournament is all about. The mentality of how we approach things now is really important.
“We play first so we have to go for the win. But I think every game in this tournament has that importance attached to it. So we have to make sure our mentality is right and we approach things in the same way did before this game. I don’t think we were a million miles away. We looked a threat against a very good defence and midfield and a tactical system that poses a lot of problems. On another night our chances would have gone in.”
England lost Saido Berahino to injury for the entire tournament earlier in the day. The player was injured in training on Wednesday and left the stadium with his right knee in a brace. He was the second player in the previous 24 hours to suffer a serious injury with John Stones out of the first two games with concussion.
Southgate said: “We lost two players after working on the shape of the team so, it is far from ideal. But I thought the players who came in did a good job. I thought Jesse [Lingard, Berahino’s replacement] had some really exciting moments and looked a threat. We can’t worry about what we haven’t got. We have to look forward now. My experience at tournaments tells me a defeat can linger for too long.
“We now have two days to turn this around. I don’t think there is any disgrace at all in our performance. The lads are disappointed to have lost. I think a draw would have been a fair result. It was a cruel goal to concede that followed a random series of events. I fully believe we can get out of the group.”Reuse content