Southgate: “You can feel Ukraine’s pride”
England beat Ukraine 2-0 in their Euro 2024 qualifying game on Sunday, united by the events of the Russian invasion on Ukraine.
England maintained their flawless start to the Euro 2024 qualifying on Sunday with their 2-0 victory over Ukraine. Emotions are high surrounding Ukraine as the war led by Russian military rages on in their country. Sunday’s game was the first time the Three Lions faced Ukraine since the war began.
England coach Gareth Southgate had said before the game that his side would definitely “pay our respects and show our support”, but that they would not play soft.
“As soon as they enter the competition, they want to go through and it’s game on. So in a football sense, we need to do what we need to do to win the game,” Southgate said ahead of the match.
That is exactly what they did. Two goals came quickly in the first half by Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane. It sealed the game for England, who look to make a deep run in the tournament. The start of the game was emotional, as the national anthems of both countries were played and 1,000 Ukrainian refugee families with their English hosts sat among the fans. A Ukrainian flag with the word “PEACE” written on it sat behind the players. England may have won, but the game between the two was full of respect for one another.
“It’s tough for them as a nation. It’s a massive game of football first and foremost in the qualifying group,” said England keeper Jordan Pickford. “That is a tough group for us to get out of. Obviously what they are going through is not very good for the nation. For us, it is a big step to qualify for the Euros in Germany.”
“I can’t really begin to imagine what that is like for all of them,” said Southgate of the Ukraine team. “What you can feel is their pride in what they’re doing. And they’re a good team. If the timing of your pressure isn’t right, then they can play through you quickly and you’re in trouble.”
Southgate urges players to stay motivated
England now has six points from the first two games in Group C, with a win over Italy on the road (their first in 62 years) and now the victory over Ukraine. Though Southgate praised his players, he also warned them not to get complacent as they face Malta and North Macedonia in June.
“We will look to psychologically refresh the group by giving them some time off at the end of the season but, if we think we haven’t got to turn up for games in June because the world ranking of the opponents isn’t as high as the two now, then we are in trouble,” said Southgate.
“That is not the approach we will be looking for. We are challenging the team to be the best in Europe in the next 13 months. That requires everyone’s commitment and that requires the standards of training to be at the highest level – no matter who we are playing against.”