It’s time for Gareth Southgate to come up with a big speech of his own. After England gave up a tying goal to Brazil in first-half stoppage time in the 2002 Soccer World Cup quarter-finals, Southgate felt coach Sven-Goran Eriksson lacked inspirational oratory in the locker room at half-time.
Now the 47-year-old former England international is leading the team, which plays Croatia at 8pm tonight in England’s first World Cup semi-final in 28 years. The match is riveting the Land of Hope and Glory, which won its only title at home in 1966.
”Probably 18 months ago I talked to them about if you have success with England, it will be so much bigger than anything you can imagine, and I think that is probably starting to register with them now,” Southgate said after Saturday’s 2-0 quarter-final victory over Sweden. Southgate, who didn’t play against Brazil, took a swipe at Eriksson after the 2-1 loss, comparing the cool-speaking Swede to a Tory opposition leader widely regarded as dull.
”We needed Churchill, but we got Iain Duncan-Smith,” an unnamed defender, later identified as Southgate, was quoted as saying in a 2004 book by Joe Lovejoy. No word whether Southgate will offer his ”blood, toil, tears and sweat.” With the coach keeping his strategies close to his now-famous vest, a young roster led by Harry Kane hopes to succeed where Gary Lineker, Michael Owen, Alan Shearer, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney failed.
England is ranked 12th in the world and Croatia 20th. The winner advances to Sunday’s final against France or Belgium, which also will be at Luzkniki Stadium. Croatia lost their only previous semi-final match to host France in 1998. They beat Denmark in the round of 16 and host Russia in the quarter-finals this year, becoming only the second team with consecutive shootout wins in the same World Cup since Argentina defeated Yugoslavia and Italy in 1990.