Gareth Southgate: 'It's cruel and a bitter disappointment'

Wednesday 24 Jun 2015
England U21s boss Gareth Southgate

England Under-21s head coach Gareth Southgate reflected on his side’s exit from the Euro Finals with disappointment after their 3-1 defeat to Italy in Olomouc.

The Three Lions went into the game knowing that a win would be enough to see them into the semi-finals, or even a draw could have taken them through too given the 1-1 draw between Portugal and Sweden in the evening's other Group B match.

England 1-3 Italy

UEFA European U21 Championship
Group B
Wednesday 24 June 2015
Ander Stadium, Olomouc, Czech Republic

But goals in two first-half minutes for the Azzurri and missed chances and misfortune at the other end meant this summer’s tournament came to a premature end for Southgate’s side.

"As you would expect for young players, there’s bitter disappointment in there because it’s been two years of work to get here," he said.

"As a group, they’ve been through so much together and learned so much in that time but also in the last couple of weeks, about tournaments, life and everything.

"Ironically, in terms of the style of football, tonight is probably the best we’ve played but games are won and lost in both penalty boxes, simple.

"We let poor goals in and we weren’t able to convert the chances that we made and we made more than in any of the other games we’ve played.

"We had some good attempts on goal and some good chances that we didn’t take.

Harry Kane was unable to find a way through for England

Harry Kane looks dejected at the final whistle after defeat against Italy

"So it’s a cruel defeat for them, but that is the nature of football in any individual match and in a tournament, it’s a knock-out quarter final so because of the way we performed in both penalty boxes, we go home."

England came to Czech Republic this summer with high hopes of success, following an impressive qualifying campaign and some good results and performances in the preparation games since.

But Southgate felt that the fine margins at this stage of the competition went against his squad, who he believes would have posed a threat against any of the other nations involved.

"There is so little between the teams in the tournament and Sweden have gone through, Italy haven’t, and there’s nothing between the eight teams in my opinion," he revealed.

"So it then comes down to detail and concentration and the two-minute spell in the first half when we conceded two goals is the turning point of the game.

"All of the teams in this competition have made defensive errors and sometimes they are punished and sometimes they’re not.

"Tonight, we were punished ruthlessly but that is the stage they’re at in their careers.

"I’ve seen senior players make similar mistakes, but sometimes as a coach of young players, you’re going to see that happen.

"But we can’t put this group of young players in with everything else that has happened in England’s football history."

Southgate opted for an attacking team in a bid to try and win the game to ensure England’s progress into the last four and what would have been a semi-final against Denmark in Prague.

And when questioned on why he didn’t make more than one substitution in the game, the former Aston Villa defender and Middlesbrough boss explained that the way in which his side continued to create openings against Luigi di Biagio’s side convinced him to stick with what he had initially set out.

"As a coach, I will reflect on it and analyse everything," he revealed. 

"But in terms of selection of the team and substitutions, we looked at it and how we could improve, but we were still creating chances and even taking Jake [Forster-Caskey] off was quite harsh as he was playing and reading the game well, but we thought Ruben [Loftus-Cheek] would give us something different.

"That’s football, knock-out football is small margins and you have to take your chances and make sure your concentration is right.

A dejected Jack Butland after England

Captain Jack Butland looks on after the game with Italy in Olomouc proved to be England's last at the Euros

"It’s a harsh lesson for them and we’ve fallen short on a bit of quality tonight, but I believe that quality is there and concentration and mistakes, yes, but outside of that I can’t be critical of the group.

"I’ll let them get on with how they want to deal with it themselves but sometimes you have to leave them with the disappointment and then tomorrow we’ll speak with them as a group and think about what’s happened to them over the two years."

Looking back on the campaign as a whole though, Southgate takes a certain amount of pride in what has been achieved since he was appointed in September 2013.

"What we’ve done over two years, we’ve progressed the profile of the team and the style we’ve played," he said.

"We’ve had some massive success stories in terms of individuals who have come through the programme and, even in this tournament, one or two players have emerged from it.

"They will be judged on what has happened tonight, but in general terms, in what they can give to English football, there are some good characters who will come from this group and go on into the senior team and make that team stronger.

"Their progression individually and collectively has been enormous. The tournament hasn’t gone as we’d have hoped in terms of results and that’s a disappointment but we need to get our players in these sort of situations more often.

"The big game experience that we’ve got in the group is minimal really and with club and country, they’ve got to go through that.

"That’s how you improve and learn as players."

By Nicholas Veevers in Olomouc