REPINO, Russia (Reuters) - England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals has prompted widespread praise but amid the euphoria midfielder Dele Alli can still be self-critical.
Gareth Southgate’s team play Croatia on Wednesday for the chance to meet France or Belgium in the final and Alli, who scored the second goal in the 2-0 last-eight win over Sweden, admitted he was not happy with his performance in that game.
“Personally, I spoke to the manager and some of my team mates, I didn’t feel like I was playing as well as I should have been,” Alli told reporters.
“Even speaking to my family, I didn’t feel like I was playing well, especially in the first half,” he added.
Alli is often given an advanced role at his club Tottenham Hotspur supporting his England captain Harry Kane, but in Southgate’s formation he has more defensive duties, helping out Jordan Henderson in midfield when England are without the ball.
Ironically, Alli says he felt he did better with the less familiar tasks than with his usual forte, making penetrating runs and providing a threat in the box.
“Defensively I did my job, did what I needed to do, but I felt like in possession, obviously you want to be on the ball creating chances and being a threat. I felt like my movement was good, but on the ball I wasn’t sharp enough, I didn’t keep it as much as I should have,” he said.
“So to score, it gives you a lift. But I’m my own biggest critic. I know I can play better than that.”
Alli, who missed England’s final two group games due to a thigh injury, dismissed the notion that nerves may have got to him in the quarter-final.
“I didn’t feel nervous or anything like that. I don’t really ever get nervous anyway. As players, we know that sometimes you can have games where your control isn’t as good as it should be or your decision making isn’t as sharp - and I felt like it was one of those games,” he said.
“But when it happens like that you have to make sure you are still benefiting the team and helping them as much as you can, off the ball. I helped the side like I always do and won the ball back as much as I could. I was in the right positions, so when it’s like that you have to make sure you are doing the basics right,” added the 22-year-old.
Alli had a positive chat with Southgate.
“He told me I’d done the other side (of the game) well and it wasn’t negative. That’s one of his big things. He wants you to try things, he wants you to express yourself and as a player that’s what I’ve always been (about),” Alli said.
Unsurprisingly, the mood in the England camp is positive but one thing Southgate has instilled in his players is a willingness to confront negative moments and learn from them.
Alli was part of the England squad who crashed out of Euro 2016 with defeat by Iceland and he said Southgate had encouraged the players to confront that memory before the tournament.
“Straight after that game you want the floor to eat you up. You want to hide and not come out of your room. You want to forget about it and lock yourself away,” Alli said.
“When Gareth came in it was the first time we relived it. You don’t want to watch it back but we know how important it was, going into the World Cup, that we had to go back through it to come out stronger.”
Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond