Southgate says Three Lions are 'ready' for Euro play-off

Friday 10 Oct 2014
Southgate's squad play Croatia for a spot in next summer's Euro Finals
Gareth Southgate says his side are ready to take on this week’s Euro play-off challenge against Croatia.

The Three Lions face the first of their two legs with home advantage at Molineux and after nine wins from ten games in the group qualifiers, can approach the tie with confidence.

England U21s v Croatia U21s

UEFA Euro U21 Championship
Play-off first leg
5.45pm, Friday 10 October 2014
Molineux, Wolverhampton Wanderers
Live on BT Sport
Call 0871 222 1877 for tickets


But Southgate and his squad know that Croatia, who also topped their own qualifying group, will offer a much sterner test than England's former group rivals with a place in next summer’s Euro Finals at stake.

"They’re ready for it," revealed Southgate.

"We’ve made certain that it’s been exactly the same as a normal week and there’s no need to tell them that it’s a game with more riding on it.

"Our preparation has been exactly the same and we’ve covered what we feel we need to cover.

"We’ve focused on what we need to do and it’s been a little bit difficult to piece together what the Croatian team will look like but it will definitely be a better test than what we’ve had in our group.

"We’ve shown them what we expect the challenge to be and I think they’re ready.

"I’m confident about the players that we’ve got and they’ll look forward to it because of the way we’ve played throughout the group.

"There is a bit more attention on the game, but for me it’s about the performance and if we transfer the way we train every day, which is what they’ve done in the campaign so far, then they’ll be fine."

Southgate believes that the games his squad faced against the likes of Brazil and Portugal in the Toulon Tournament earlier this year will have helped ready the players for the next two games.

But the amount of attention and pressure on the squad will be something many of them will not have experienced in their international careers so far.

"In terms of the on-field challenge, the games in the summer were good preparation for this because I think Brazil might have been a level higher [than Croatia]," added the head coach.

Gareth Southgate takes his squad training ahead of their Euro play-off with Croatia.

Southgate has been training with his squad at St. George's Park this week


"But what surrounds the game is different for them so that’s the interesting one, seeing how they cope with the different focus that is on them.

"It’s not something I need to build up for them, they just need to focus on their individual and collective jobs really.

"If we take away the focus, then that adds un-necessary pressure."

One area in which Southgate knows his side won’t be lacking is in their team spirit and togetherness.

The core group has remained solid throughout the last 13 months of qualifying and has resulted in what Southgate describes as a "special bond."

And he believes that mentality could prove important over the next two games, with the return fixture taking place in Vinkovci next Tuesday.

"It is a special bond and I think they’ll look back on this in the future," he revealed.

"They are really close and they all mix with each other. They’ll be sitting with someone at breakfast and then playing table tennis with someone else later, the interaction has been brilliant and that’s been powerful.

"The three or four players who aren’t here with injury have been sending messages and phoning.

See the spirit of the squad in this video of shooting practice in training


"That gives you a chance and it’s something that we’ve tried to create and cultivate, with the characters we’ve picked.

"These are the intangibles that help to get you results, running that extra five yards for your mate to help get that block in.

"They’ve exhibited this over a period of time. It isn’t everything, but it gives you a chance and they enjoy being together.

"International sport shouldn’t be a cosy environment, but if you’re all of a like mind and pulling in the right direction, then it helps."

Tickets for Friday’s game cost just £10 for adults and £5 for concessions. Call 0871 222 1877 for more details on how you can be there to cheer on the Three Lions.

By Nicholas Veevers Content Manager - FA Owned Channels at St. George's Park