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Southgate says England ready to peak at Euro 2024 after being weighed down by pressure so far

DORTMUND, Germany — (AP) — It seems the deeper England goes at the European Championship, the less pressure its players are feeling.

“You’re now into that moment of the tournament,” England coach Gareth Southgate said Tuesday, “where it’s about what’s possible and what’s achievable rather than what might go wrong.”

Southgate has noticed a gradual shift in mood in his squad at Euro 2024.

In theory, the stakes are higher now England has reached the semifinals and a match against the Netherlands. After all, the men's team is within one win of getting to back-to-back European Championship finals and of reaching the title match at a major tournament for the first time outside England.

Yet, Southgate said the pressure and “noise” was much higher on the players earlier in the tournament.

England came to Euro 2024 with what many regarded as its strongest squad for 20 years, only to limp through the group stage, require an equalizer in the fifth minute of stoppage time begore getting past Slovakia in the last 16 and then need a penalty-shootout win over Switzerland to advance from the quarterfinals.

“One of the strengths of us over the last seven, eight years has been less fear, less inhibition,” Southgate said at a pre-match news conference in Dortmund. “But I think at the beginning of the tournament, expectation weighed quite heavily and of course the external noise was louder than it has ever been.

“I felt we couldn’t quite get ourselves in the right place. In the end, what was impressive was the players ground it out and found ways to win. I felt that shifted once we got to the knockout stage, definitely in the quarterfinal - we saw a better version of us with the ball. We’re freer.”

Southgate has tried different ways to get his players more relaxed. They included bringing pop star Ed Sheeran into the camp to play a few songs and letting the team listen with a few beers.

The adversity England has already faced on the field, however, might stand them in better stead, Southgate said.

“You can bond in that way,” Southgate said of the team having an audience with musician Ed Sheeran, “but when you’re having to head the ball out of your box in the 92nd minute or find a goal in the 96th minute (like against Slovakia), there’s nothing stronger than that for building the spirit of the team.”

There was some light amusement when a journalist asked Southgate and Harry Kane, who also was in attendance, whether they knew the German for “European champion” as part of their attempts to learn the language.

Kane, who has lived in Germany for nearly a year after joining Bayern Munich in August 2023, looked slightly flustered and said: “I don’t.”

“Strangely, it wasn’t one I looked for either,” Southgate said. “I know how to turn right at the underground station but that’s about it.”

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AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

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