The Three Lions are aiming to book a semi-final against either Denmark or Czech Republic at Wembley. But with four players on yellow cards, they will be walking a tightrope in Rome, knowing another booking will rule them out of the next match.
Harry Maguire, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips and Phil Foden have all been booked – but Gareth Southgate insists the danger of losing them will play no part in his team plans and has told them it should not play into their minds at all.
The England manager says Keane’s heroic performance for Manchester United against Juventus in the 1999 Champions League semi-final should serve as inspiration to his players.
The Irishman was booked early in United’s epic win – leading their comeback from 2-0 down to win 3-2 on the way to their historic Treble.
Southgate has experienced it too.
“I was on a yellow before the semi-final with Germany (at Euro 96) and would have missed the final had we ever got there, had I picked up a yellow,” said Southgate. “So you are aware of it as a player.
“You have these situations in your career when you still have to be committed to the game, avoid unnecessary yellows if you can, but accept that you might mistime something. You have to have the same commitment because if you aren’t that committed we are not going to get to the semi-final anyway. That’s the reality. You can’t be thinking of what’s next.
“I suppose the best example was Roy Keane against Juve. That’s the ultimate personal sacrifice really. He knew he wasn’t going to play from fairly early in the game, but he kept leading the team on to the final.
“Our guys are committed to each other. They know where they are at. We have to do everything we can to give ourselves the best chance of winning this game and then a semi-final where we will have to deal with whatever situation we are in.”
Southgate says he is prepared to play all four players who are on a booking.
He added: “If we had won five World Cups maybe we would think differently, but I don’t think we would. I just haven’t seen other teams at this stage of a competition take that kind of approach.
“We have been to three semi-finals 60 years. The thought that we can be resting players to get through a semi-final – I can’t think of a nation that would do that. I don’t remember a nation doing that.“I understand the strategy of thinking that through, but I don’t think there is a team in the world who would do that at this point.
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“It would be a bad message for our players and it would be the wrong message for Ukraine. I don’t think we can fiddle around. It would be just about thinking about the future and we should not be thinking about the future at this moment.”
Maguire agrees with his manager, adding: “With that yellow card I haven’t thought past this quarter-final so I’ll be going into the game playing my normal game.
“It’s not very often you play in a major tournament quarter-final so for me to look beyond that would be silly. I will be playing my normal game because in a quarter-final of a major tournament my objective is to win that football match.
“If we do win it, when we do win it, then we concentrate on the next game and see where it takes us.”