NEIL HARRIS believes Gareth Southgate has done a “monumental job” with England – even if the Three Lions fall at the penultimate hurdle tomorrow night.
England face Croatia in Moscow on Wednesday for a place in the World Cup final for the first time since Alf Ramsey’s side won the tournament in 1966.
And Harris thinks Southgate is well ahead of schedule after guiding England to the semi-finals for the first time since 1990.
“I think he’s done a monumental job,” Harris told the News. “I’m an England fan myself and I’ve been really impressed with how he’s set his stall out with the culture, how he made it clear with his squad selection that the focus is on the group.
“I don’t think he’s taking anything away from senior players he left out, but he wanted to focus on the football side of things rather than everything that goes around it.
“I’m delighted for Gareth and for the FA. They’ve put a plan in place that wouldn’t have been necessarily to get to the World Cup semi-finals in this tournament. They would have been looking at the European Championships and the next World Cup.
“There has been some good fortune with the draw but you’ve still got to win games. We’re looking at tomorrow with an expectation that we can win the game, but if we don’t it’s not the end of the world. It has been portrayed as a disaster in previous tournaments when we’ve gone out.
“I really enjoy watching the team. They’re fresh, they’re hungry, they play without fear. They play like the England sides that I grew up watching in the ‘80s and the ‘90s.”
One of the past complaints from previous England squads was of being bored at major tournaments, with Jermain Defoe even claiming he watched Wayne Rooney’s wedding DVD with the former England skipper to pass the time during the 2010 World Cup finals.
Harris and his Millwall squad head to Portugal tomorrow for a week’s training camp, and he admits it can be challenging for players who only have the company of each other for extended periods of time.
But he feels England have got the balance right this time around.
“It’s not just the boredom factor, they live together 24/7,” Harris said. “If you’re away together that long sometimes it’s good to have a few hours to yourself.
“We’ve got a great group of lads here, people see that every week. But you’ve still got to find avenues for them to have time alone. You have to exercise the mind, it can’t just be training all the time.
“You look at the hunger England have got when they go on the pitch, the camaraderie they’ve got.
“It certainly helps having a younger group and little things have been special. Seeing John Stones doing a press conference the day before a World Cup quarter-final and having Kieran Trippier come in and sit in the front row – that to me just shows a level of calmness in the group.
“I haven’t seen that in an England group for many, many tournaments. That was a great sign for me and I think they believe they can win the competition.”
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