England have made “massive strides” in recent years and reaching the final of the European Championship for the first time in their history would represent an exciting opportunity for the young squad, coach Gareth Southgate said on Tuesday.
England, who play Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday, last played in the Euros semi-finals in 1996 at the same venue where they were knocked out when Southgate missed a penalty in a shootout against Germany.
Since Southgate took over as manager, England have reached the semi-finals of the World Cup and the Nations League and, though the 50-year-old is not looking to avenge that miss, he has urged his squad to go one step further.
“It’s not about what it is for me, it’s about what it is for the players, all of the staff and the country,” Southgate told reporters.
“We don’t have as good a football history as we like to believe sometimes and these players are making massive strides and breaking barriers all the time.
“We’ve broken barriers in this tournament and we have another opportunity to do that tomorrow. We’ve never been to a European Championship final so we can be the first which is really exciting for everybody.”
Southgate said Denmark’s changing formations during a game will be a challenge but believes England have intelligent players who can adapt to different systems.
“Over the last three years we’ve always been flexible with our tactical approach and we always have to try to pick the right approach for the opponent,” Southgate said.
“Denmark have been changing during matches. They’ve got fluidity with their selection and we’ll have to be aware of that during the game. I think the players are aware of that and we’ve got players that make good decisions on the field.
“They’ve got experience of coming up against different systems and they know how to counter those systems… We understand our own patterns of play and it means that there’s a consistency in the way that we operate.”
England will be paying tribute to Christian Eriksen before the game after the Danish playmaker survived a cardiac arrest in their group opener last month and Harry Kane said his former Tottenham Hotspur team mate always had a place in his heart.
“I’m good friends with Chris. It will be sad not to see him there,” Kane said, adding he had been in touch with Eriksen in the days that followed.
“He’s been a big part of Denmark’s success over the years and, of course, it is a terrible thing that happened to him. The main thing is that he’s doing well and recovering well.”