England is pregnant with expectation. The euphoria around Sunday’s Euro final against Italy at Wembley is unparalleled, but the players and the coach are digging deep to fish out the required confidence and keep tension at bay.
So while coach Gareth Southgate is motivated — not burdened — by the responsibility of leading England into their first major soccer final in 55 years, captain Harry Kane too believes that the landmark match is an opportunity to be “remembered in history”.
“It’s a great moment in our history as a nation. The excitement is going to be through the roof; I’m sure there’ll be a few nerves as well. It’s just about going out there and feeding off all that energy in the stadium and the crowd and trying to use that to our advantage,” Kane was quoted as saying by uefa.com.
Acknowledging the significance of the game, the 27-year-old striker said: “In 1966, obviously, England won the World Cup and it was such an amazing achievement… Now we have that opportunity to create even more history, and (for) our parents and family members who’ve never seen England in a final before… If we can finish the job and win, then obviously we’ll be remembered in history for the rest of our lives. That’s the challenge we have.”
Southgate is not losing perspective either. Patriotism sits comfortably with the coach at a time when Britain — a country made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern
Ireland — is trying to redefine itself after leaving the European Union. “We have so many things here that we should be proud of that we probably underestimate that,” he said on Friday.
Whereas his predecessors as England coach would stick to talking about matters on the field, Southgate has often talked about the role of sports in uniting the country since the 2016 Brexit referendum.
It’s a big moment for someone like Raheem Sterling as well.
Of the 10 goals Southgate’s side have scored at the tournament, Sterling has had his prints on seven of them, providing the cutting-edge to England’s carefully crafted machine and frequently finding the breakthrough goal.
Sterling also had a point to prove after failing to score in his 12 previous appearances in major tournaments and being partly blamed by the media for England’s poor showing at Euro 2016.
Sterling’s storming performances have not surprised former England defender Rio Ferdinand, who revealed that on the morning of the opening game with Croatia Sterling was feeling extra motivated and had told him on the phone: “It’s time.”
The England camp is more or less free of worries but 21-year-old midfielder Phil Foden did not take part in Saturday’s team trining session as a precaution owing to a minor injury.
England wrote on Twitter: “25 players are out at training this morning as the Three Lions get ready for Italy, with Phil Foden sitting out due to a minor knock.”
Southgate has no shortage of options on the right side of the attack where Foden usually plays, with several players competing for the spot, including Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth too doesn’t want to be left out of the football festival as she sent a message to Southgate to wish the team luck.
The monarch wrote a letter to the England manager in which she recalled her memory of presenting the World Cup to England in 1966 and seeing the joy that it brought.
“I want to... send my good wishes for tomorrow with the hope that history will record not only your success but also the spirit, commitment and pride with which you have conducted yourselves,” she wrote.
Written with agency inputs