Southgate admits questions remain despite England win


England manager Gareth Southgate was prepared for a negative reaction after another display of frustrating mediocrity as his side came back from the brink of elimination against Slovakia on Sunday to book a quarter-final berth at Euro 2024.

"I can imagine how everybody's going to react to that even though we've won, but we're still in there," Southgate said. "We want to be better, I'm not going to hide from that. But the spirit and the character was there for everybody to see."

Except that for 94 minutes on Sunday, the pre-tournament favourites looked destined to be eliminated by a team 40 places below them on FIFA's world rankings before their tournament was salvaged by a last-gasp bicycle kick by Jude Bellingham, and a header by Harry Kane early in extra time.

Southgate's rigidity around substitutions was the most glaring question, particularly the introduction of Ivan Toney in the 94th minute. The Brentford striker looked furious with the manager as he prepared to come on.

"I knew Ivan Toney had the hump with me, putting him on," Southgate said. "But I said to him, 'This could be the moment.'"

Toney eventually set up the winner as he headed the ball on for Kane's goal.

Southgate compared his substitutes' performances to England's 1966 World Cup campaign when Geoff Hurst did not play until the quarter-finals but scored a hat-trick in their victory against West Germany in the final, a video of which was shown to England's players ahead of Sunday's game.

"All along the players that have come into the games have had a big impact," Southgate said of his substitutes. "All of the guys that came on played important roles either in creating the goals, steadying the ship.

"So that's the spirit that they have and they've shown it and it's that that's got us over the line today."

Southgate said England's defenders were poor in the first half, with the back four struggling to get the ball forward and the lack of a left-footer at left back continues to cause problems with balance.

"Kieran Trippier (who is right-footed) is doing an incredible job for the team," Southgate said. "It's that playing through the pressure in midfield that is a problem we've had for a long time really and we're always trying to find tactical ways of getting around that. Today that took us a while to organise."

Southgate praised Bellingham, who arrived in Germany shouldering heavy expectations from fans after his remarkable season at Real Madrid. His spectacular overhead kick turned their agony to ecstasy on Sunday, a day after his 21st birthday.

"Two hugely important goals in this tournament already. He's a great boy. He's super to work with, wants to do well," Southgate said.

"And also, he knows that we're trying to help him through all of these challenges and hurdles that the different environment of the national team brings, because it is a different environment."

England will face a significantly tougher test in the quarter-finals against Switzerland, who ousted reigning European Champions Italy 2-0 on Saturday.

"I think that the game against the Swiss will throw completely different tactical problems just as difficult just as complex," Southgate said. "And then a different solution to solve."

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