Gareth Southgate: Was his success against Switzerland in Euro 2024 a stroke of luck, or does he merit recognition for the victory

England advanced to the semi-finals of Euro 2024 after defeating Switzerland in a thrilling penalty shootout, securing victory with a 5-3 scoreline after a tense 1-1 draw. The question arises: was Gareth Southgate fortunate, or does he merit commendation? This marks Southgate’s third major tournament semi-final as manager keonhacai, setting up an upcoming clash against the Netherlands.

England faced a daunting scenario as Breel Embolo broke the deadlock with a close-range effort in the 75th minute, casting a shadow over Gareth Southgate’s 100th match in charge of the national team. The prospect of this milestone match becoming his final one loomed large for the England manager in Dusseldorf.

After the match, basking in the aftermath of their hard-fought win, he would commend the team’s effort as their most impressive display yet in the tournament. However, at that juncture, trailing by a goal with only 15 minutes remaining, his team hadn’t managed to test the goalkeeper even once. There was some progress, perhaps, but the tangible results were still lacking.

Similarly to the round of 16 match against Slovakia, England once again found themselves in a situation where they only required one decisive moment to turn the tide. This time, it was Bukayo Saka who made the difference with a spectacular strike. After cutting inside from the right flank, his powerful shot thundered into the net off the post, securing the breakthrough for England.

It seemed as though he had rescued Southgate from a difficult situation. More so than Bellingham’s goal against Slovakia, this moment emerged unexpectedly—a burst of individual brilliance amidst another uninspiring team performance.

However, it must also be highlighted that the incident could have been prevented if his manager had listened to the numerous suggestions to relocate Saka to the left, rather than continuing to deploy him on his favored side.

So, was Southgate fortunate, or does he merit recognition?

Perhaps both are accurate. Perhaps it’s inconsequential either way. The crucial takeaway remains that after a tense penalty shootout, where England’s players displayed composure contrasting sharply with the nerves of the spectators, they have reached the semifinals with their dream still intact.

Fans might question why, when Switzerland manager Murat Yakin swiftly made substitutions that resulted in Embolo scoring roughly 10 minutes later, Southgate delayed in making his first changes until England had already conceded the lead.

Despite this seeming reluctance, it has not only characterized this tournament but Southgate’s entire reign. Nevertheless, as was the case with Slovakia, even though Ivan Toney expressed frustration at being brought on only during added time, everything eventually fell into place.

Southgate could highlight Toney’s contribution to Harry Kane’s decisive extra-time goal in that match. Against Switzerland, he can highlight the fact that three of his substitutes – Cole Palmer, Ivan Toney, and Trent Alexander-Arnold – each scored during the shootout after coming on late in the game.

Is it meant to be this challenging? Southgate has emphasized that performances and playing style can only carry a team so far in major tournaments. However, England, despite their success so far, have shown that the supposedly easier side of the draw is far from straightforward.

Despite their abundance of attacking talent, their performance in front of goal continues to be surprisingly lackluster. Despite reaching the semi-finals, England are ranked 12th among the 26 teams in the tournament for shots on target, trailing behind four teams that played fewer matches. They also find themselves in the same position for expected goals.

Euro 2024 stats

In analyzing the two knockout matches individually, the statistics are equally underwhelming. Despite England enduring two extra-time scenarios, their total expected goals (xG) barely reached 2.18. Over 240 minutes of play plus stoppage time, they managed to convert merely five shots on target into three goals.

England’s sole victory within regular time came in their opening group match against Serbia, ending 1-0. Despite a promising beginning, the win was hard-fought. Many supporters would argue that the following matches have also been challenging to watch.

At times, Southgate has appeared to struggle or falter.

His attempt at deploying Alexander-Arnold in midfield was shelved after just two matches. The subsequent choice, Conor Gallagher, lasted only until halftime during the scoreless match against Slovenia.

Certain decisions he consistently makes, like persisting with Kieran Trippier on the left and sticking with an off-form Kane upfront, have attracted increased scrutiny.

In the end, regardless of what follows, Southgate views England’s advancement to the semifinals as a testament to their strong track record in both World Cups and European Championships.

Under Southgate’s leadership, England have achieved a new milestone by reaching the quarter-finals in four consecutive major tournaments, a feat unprecedented in their history. This marks the third occasion he has guided them to a semi-final. While the absence of silverware remains a source of frustration, his accomplishments already surpass those of his esteemed predecessors.

There are lingering concerns about his in-game decision-making, which will face a tougher examination against the Netherlands. However, England’s composed execution of penalties underscored their thorough preparation and the significant improvement in their mentality. Their ability to stage yet another late comeback further demonstrated their resilience.

Southgate shoulders the responsibility of addressing lingering issues and answering pressing questions, having fostered the team’s resilient spirit through his meticulous preparation.

This England team is not flawless. In reality, their progression to the semifinals has been despite inconsistent performances rather than because of them. Nevertheless, they have earned their place there and now have an opportunity to advance further. Southgate is set to reach at least 101 games in charge.

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