Gareth Southgate explains England selection as he emphasises importance of squad

Those hazy, heady days of Euro 96 make it easy to forget what really happened that summer.

Twenty five years on, England find themselves in a similar position of starting the tournament slowly, trying to find the right formula and better performances.

England reached the semi finals at Wembley in 1996 after drawing the first game with Switzerland, beating Scotland, thrashing Holland but squeezing past Spain on a penalty shoot-out even though the visitors had a perfectly good goal disallowed for offside.

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It just shows that tournaments are never plain sailing and, as Gareth Southgate always suspected this time, his team would have to “evolve” and gain some momentum as they went through.

Now, they have to rise to the challenge and improve to get past better opponents as they go into the knock-out stages but Southgate has been more concerned about results than performances so far.

Gareth Southgate has been chopping and changing his side throughout the group games

England have done the job with narrow 1-0 wins over Croatia and Czech Republic, a disappointing draw with Scotland and yet seven points, three clean sheets and into the last 16 as Group winners which keeps them at Wembley.

It has been a nightmare preparation for Southgate with injuries, ten players joining up late after European finals, Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount having to self isolate and that is why the England boss believes there is a lot more to come from his team.

Southgate had planned to start both Chilwell and Mount against Czech Republic, when he lost Mount he took Phil Foden out so as not to risk him with a yellow card because he could not lose them both for the last 16 tie.

In came Bukayo Saka for Mount and Jack Grealish for Foden which just goes to highlight that Grealish was not due to start against the Czechs and just shows the last minute changes and why England have been struggling to get enough fluidity or rhythm.

They can now at least see their path, the route further into the tournament and they will have had six days on the training ground to work on set pieces, tactics and trying to inject some sharpness into his players for the bigger challenges ahead.

Southgate always believed his players would have to grow into the tournament just like at Euro 96 or the World Cup when they reached the semi finals three years ago and said: “We knew that because of the nature of our preparation.

“To get ten of the players so late…and not be able to get them in to the friendly and then have Harry Maguire not available, Jordan Henderson early stages of rehab, Jack Grealish having only played the last couple of games of the season and still having to miss training…one or two others with small issues.

How should England line up in the last 16? Let us know your XI in the comments below.

“So we have known the team was going to have to evolve and we were wanting to get some players match minutes against the Czech Republic.

“Even with the Scotland game we wanted to get players on to the pitch. Reece James started for example because he hadn’t played since the Champions League final.

“So, had one or two of those players been needed going forward then they had match minutes and the fitness and sharpness we are going to need.

“As we saw on Monday, it’s never more apparent than preparing one of those players and getting them up to that level is so critical in these times so they are ready to play. Players adapted brilliantly.

“Some of the things we had to change we couldn’t do on the training pitch and considering that and considering the short period between the two matches, I thought they implemented a lot of the things that we were trying to do very well, they just weren’t able to do it for the full 90 minutes.

“It’s why the squad is going to be so important because we are going to have to bring fresh legs in to the games. We have not been able to put that intensity of performance together but what we have done well is manage the games and see the games out and look really solid.”

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