Gareth Southgate keeps getting handed luck of the draw at major tournaments – now is finally time to seize opportunity

FOOTBALL hasn’t come home yet — but opportunity keeps knocking loudly on the front door for Gareth Southgate and England.

Southgate is rarely considered a brave manager but fortune consistently favours the Three Lions boss in major tournaments.

Gareth Southgate has once again been handed a favourable route to the final

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Gareth Southgate has once again been handed a favourable route to the finalCredit: Getty

By the time England kicked off their final Group C game against Slovenia, they knew the four strongest teams in the tournament — France, Spain, Portugal and Germany — would all be in the opposite half of the draw, should they win the group.

A grim goalless draw was good enough to achieve that, thanks to Denmark’s inability to see off Serbia, but the prospect of a tricky last-16 tie against Holland still loomed.

Yet, after Belgium had failed to win their group and also ended up in the ‘Half of Death’, came the extraordinary shock of Georgia defeating Portugal.

This, somehow, meant that England had avoided the Dutch and been handed a plum tie against Slovakia instead. None of this is English arrogance.

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Indeed, it is surely impossible for any Englishman to be arrogant about their national team after watching back-to-back stink-bombings against Denmark and Slovenia.

And while there are no easy games in Euros finals — at least not now that Scotland are out — there are certainly easier halves of a draw.

And Southgate’s side keep on ending up in them.

Should England defeat the Slovaks in the last 16 on Sunday — and nobody is regarding that as a certainty — they would face either Switzerland or Italy in the quarters.

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The Swiss are perennial last-16 losers and, while Italy are reigning European champions, England beat them home and away in the qualifiers. Then would come a potential semi-final against one of Austria, Turkey, Romania or the Dutch.

All of these are useful teams and England would need a vast improvement on their previous two performances to advance to that stage.

Charlie Wyett slams ‘massively disappointing’ England after drab 0-0 draw with Slovenia in final Euro 2024 group game

Yet despite being bang average at best so far, the nature of the draw suggests Southgate’s side are more likely than any other nation to reach the final.

And we have been here before — most notably at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

There, England faced Colombia, Sweden and Croatia in the knockout stages — with France, Brazil, Argentina, a peak Belgian team and Portugal all on the opposite side of the draw, while Spain fell by the wayside in the last 16.

At the last Euros in 2021, England defeated Croatia in their group and Germany in the last 16 but again the draw fell kindly. Ukraine in the quarter-finals and the Danes in the semis were a godsend.

The Qatar World Cup provided a straightforward passage to the quarters, where England were edged out by holders France. But had Harry Kane scored a second penalty that night and the Three Lions had progressed, his team would have faced underdogs Morocco in the semis.

This is not to decry Southgate or belittle his achievements, merely to point out that the cards have so often fallen in his team’s favour.

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He has been to enough tournaments to know that the only expectation should be the unexpected.

Speaking earlier this week about the idea of winning the group to avoid Germany in the last 16, the England chief said: “It would be a myth to think we’re going to have an easier route by avoiding certain teams or playing others.”

That is the only attitude he can take. There is no room for complacency, especially when your team has been consistently poor all year.

But for the rest of us it is clear — Southgate has enjoyed the luck of the draw again.

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The yellow-brick road to Berlin for the final on July 14 looks significantly smoother than it had done a few days ago.

Now it’s time for opportunity to be seized at last.

Southgate has made strange decisions… he should have brought Henderson and Maguire, write Charlie Wyett

IN the space of a week, we seem to have lost the Gareth Southgate who brought the feel-good factor back to English football, writes Charlie Wyett.

Here is a man who now looks battered and bruised from the fierce criticism he has received not only back home but also from a couple of former England players.

We live in a world where too many pundits are cheerleaders and while Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer were correct in their evaluation of the Three Lions after the 1-1 draw with Denmark, it has nevertheless gone down badly with Southgate.

The manager says he is on a mission to protect his players from all the s*** that is flying around but he must also ensure he does not lose focus.

In his eight years as England manager, he had never appeared so chilled going into the opening two games.

The mood was upbeat around the team’s Euro base in Blankenhain. Southgate was in good humour during all of his media duties.

Here was a man confident in the knowledge he had a group of players capable of winning Euro 2024.

But in the fall-out of the two draws against Denmark and Slovenia, his mood has darkened spectacularly. He has had some tough spells but none like this.

One of the 53-year-old’s big strengths has been the ability to tap into each and every England fan and create positivity.

No supporter will ever forget the summer of 2018 when they finally fell in love with the England football team.

Yet Southgate knows he has lost the trust of virtually the entire English supporting public.

He suffered abuse and ridicule after England lost 4-0 to Hungary in the Nations League in 2022 but this is at a different level.

Southgate is acutely aware how the whole mood of the nation has changed.

Over these last few weeks, Southgate has made some strange decisions.

It was a mistake to take Luke Shaw as his sole left-footed defender and only now is he anywhere near to being fit.

Marc Guehi has been England’s best player over the three matches so far but Ezri Konsa and Lewis Dunk are not ideal back-ups.

Southgate should have picked either Harry Maguire, despite his short-term injury issues, or Bayern Munich’s Eric Dier.

Jordan Henderson — despite not having a great end to the season with Ajax — should have been included as he would have had a month to get up speed in terms of sharpness.

Even if he was not ready to start, he is a winner  — as he proved with Liverpool — and he would have been a steady,  experienced influence in the dressing room. As for Southgate’s team selections, the Trent Alexander-Arnold experiment did not work.

Neither did putting Conor Gallagher next to Declan Rice against Slovenia.

Although Marcus Rashford and James Maddison could not have too many complaints over missing out, Jack Grealish should have been included even if it was to come off the bench.

Southgate went too far with his mixing and matching. Now, he is left with a squad lacking balance but equally, one which could go deep into this tournament.

Southgate needs his big players like Jude Bellingham, Harry Kane and Phil Foden to play without fear.

Those same players need Southgate to try not to be affected by public opinion, even if this includes some of his mates.

Also, Southgate needs to get all of his team selections right. And maybe then, he will leave the England job on a high.

Read all of Charlie Wyett’s Euro 2024 articles.