SAMARA, Russia (Reuters) - Sweden were lauded for their collective spirit heading into their World Cup quarter-final on Saturday, however after his side secured a 2-0 win it was England manager Gareth Southgate purring about the togetherness of his young squad.
Entering the tournament with minimal expectations and the second youngest team at the World Cup, England surprised many by reaching their third ever World Cup semi-final.
They have done so off the back of a change in attitude, implemented by their 47-year-old coach.
“That collective (spirit) is why we are here,” Southgate told reporters.
“To get through the two games this week we needed all of that. We are not the finished article and we do not have world class players yet, but we have young players who are prepared to be brave on the ball and have shown a real mental resilience.
“We have got to this point because our collective is so strong. We played an opponent who has a clear identity and their collectiveness has been too much for us at times in the past.”
Before Saturday’s win, achieved by goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli, England had only beaten Sweden twice in their last 15 meetings.
Many narratives are being rewritten in Southgate’s first major tournament since being appointed coach of the senior side in September 2016 after several years coaching England’s youth ranks.
Since coming in, the former defender and his team have looked to instill a new philosophy in the players and the coach was quick to credit these changes with England’s success in Russia.
“I think we have worked hard at establishing a clear identity,” he said.
“We have an outstanding mentality in these players, a humility and recognition of where they were 18 months ago and the work needed to get to here.
“We have got to keep on improving as staff and as players. It isn’t about me, it is about the whole group.”
Despite reaching the semi-finals, Southgate was keen to stress that his players were still developing.
“We are in the World Cup semi-finals. Whether we are in the top four in the world, we still need to prove that,” he said.
“We are progressing really well and we do have some good players. They need opportunities to play.
“We have played some players who are very tender years in their careers but we believe in them.
“In years to come they will be even better, but today was an opportunity we didn’t want to miss out on.”
Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Christian Radnedge