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Southgate defends England’s style despite another defeat

June 7, 2019
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England manager Gareth Southgate, right, and England's Marcus Rashford, , center left, leave the pitch at the end of the UEFA Nations League semifinal soccer match between Netherlands and England at the D. Afonso Henriques stadium in Guimaraes, Portugal, Thursday, June 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

GUMARAES, Portugal (AP) — Despite another semifinal elimination and another missed chance to end a title drought, England coach Gareth Southgate is not abandoning his team’s new ball-possession style.

England lost to the Netherlands 3-1 in extra time of the inaugural UEFA Nations League on Thursday, losing a semifinal for the fifth straight time and extending its winless run of more than five decades without a trophy.

Southgate admitted the two sloppy defensive mistakes that proved costly in extra time came as a consequence of the team’s style, but said he wasn’t planning to change how the team plays because of what happened on Thursday.

“I’m asking them to play in a way that puts them under huge pressure at the back,” Southgate said. “If we didn’t play that way, we wouldn’t have got to the semifinals we’ve got to, and we would never progress to be a top team.”

England also lost in the semifinals at the World Cup last year, and in the previous three it had played — at the 1996 European Championship, the 1990 World Cup and the 1968 European Championship. The Englishmen haven’t won a competitive trophy since the 1966 World Cup at home.

Southgate, who has been in charge since 2016, has his players keeping possession as much as possible starting from the back, with John Stones and Harry Maguire often receiving the first ball and distributing it for the players further up the field.

They struggled several times against a high-pressing Dutch team on Thursday, though, and Stones eventually gave away a ball inside his own area, leading to the Netherlands’ go-ahead goal in the seventh minute of extra time.

“I’ve got to be there to support John because he’s going to get criticism after tonight,” Southgate said. “Himself and Harry, the way we ask them to play, they take a huge strain of the game on their shoulders, and they’re incredibly courageous to do that. So, that’s the way I believe they can play and (the way) we should play.”

The second defensive mistake came in the second half of extra time, when Ross Barkley’s short pass under pressure went straight to an opponent inside the area, allowing the Netherlands to score again and close out the match.

“We didn’t lose because of how we wanted to play, the errors were uncharacteristic really, and not in areas we would make (them in),” he said. “It wasn’t risky, it was just poor execution and fatigue, certainly the last one was just fatigue. So I’ve got to not overreact to those things and I’ve got to be there to support them in what’s a difficult moment for everybody.”

Southgate didn’t start any of the players who last week were in the Champions League final in Madrid, including Tottenham forward Harry Kane and Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson. Kane entered the match at halftime to replace Marcus Rashford.

“I think you can always look in hindsight at some of those decisions,” Southgate said. “But, with everything that we dealt with, I think we started and finished with the right people on the pitch.”

England arrived for the Nations League’s Final Four as a title favorite after a fourth-place finish at the World Cup and a series of good results since then, including wins over Spain and World Cup runner-up Croatia.

“It’s very painful for everybody, but it’s a night where we would have learned so much,” Southgate said. “I’ve got to look at the bigger picture of what the players have given me and the way that they’ve tried incredibly for their country.”

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