Gareth Southgate heaped praise on England’s “immense” players after they secured a historic, morale-boosting victory against Germany and progressed to the Euro 2020 quarter-finals.
A partisan Wembley crowd roared the Three Lions to just their second ever European Championship knockout triumph on Tuesday, with a clash against Sweden or Ukraine in Rome the reward.
England struck twice just as fear began to creep in about another major competition exit to Germany, with the squad heeding their manager’s advice to make their own history in the 2-0 last-16 win.
Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane scored the decisive goals, with ‘Football’s Coming Home’ echoing around Wembley at the end of England’s biggest match on home soil since the Euro 96.
Hopes of glory were ended at the semi-final stage 25 years ago as Southgate missed the pivotal penalty, but dreams are alive of becoming European champions.
“I think the players were immense,” England manager Southgate said. “Right the way through the team they were immense.
“They have given the fans in the stadium, who were also incredible (a great day). I’ve been here with a full house and not heard it anywhere near the levels that the crowd found today.
“But they were behind every challenge, they were behind every time we pressed the ball, they were behind every run we had and the energy was incredible in the stadium.
“So, to be able to send them home feeling as they do tonight, to hear them at the end… I mean, you can’t beat a bit of ‘Sweet Caroline’, can you? That’s a belter, really.
“But to know that so many millions of people after such a difficult year at home can have that enjoyment that I know we’d have given them today is very special.”
It was a moment to cherish for England and underlined the strides being made by the 2018 World Cup semi-finalists.
“I think the performance was really important, the level of the performance,” Southgate said.
“We were playing a team with four World Cup winners, a manager (Joachim Low) that’s had an incredible career.
“I didn’t have the chance to congratulate him earlier because I know tonight will be a difficult night, but he’s had an incredible career with Germany and I have huge respect for what he’s done.
“But we know that there’s always been questions following the World Cup about us against a big team, a big nation.
“Germany are with their experience today, we knew they would dictate the speed of certain passages of the game, the possession.
“We knew that (Toni) Kroos would organise the game and (Mats) Hummels and that we’d have to be patient.
“So, what pleased me the most was that we’ll always have passion and we’ll always have heart, but we played with brains today as well.”
From Jordan Pickford’s key saves at important times to the three-man defence keeping England’s fourth clean sheet of the tournament and a mature midfield display, it was a fine all-round performance.
The celebrations at full-time will live long in the memory but the players’ attention quickly turned to Saturday’s match in Italy and a shot at a semi-final spot.
“It didn’t really need me to say it but when we get in the dressing room, we were talking about Saturday already,” Southgate added.
“Today’s been an immense performance but at a cost, emotionally and physically, and we’ve got to make sure that we recover well and that mentally we’re in the right space.
“It’s a dangerous moment for us.
“We’ll have that warmth of success and the feeling around the country that we’ve only got to turn up to win the thing – and we know it’s going to be an immense challenge from here on.
“I think the players know that. They’ve been to the latter stages before, they know how difficult that’s been, so their feet are on the ground.
“They should feel confident from the way they’ve played and the manner of the performance.
“But of course we came here with an intention and we’ve not achieved that yet.”