Gareth Southgate urged England to exorcise the ghosts of their World Cup embarrassments against the United States when they clash in Doha on Friday.
The US handed England two of the more chastening results in their World Cup history and their Group B showdown at the Al Bayt Stadium offers an opportunity to finally get revenge.
In 1950, the US, then comprised largely of amateur players, won 1-0 against an England side, featuring the great Tom Finney and Billy Wright in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
The result was so stunning that a film titled ‘The Game of their Lives’ was made about it.
Sixty years later, a horrendous mistake by England goalkeeper Rob Green allowed Clint Dempsey’s shot to squirm into the net for the equaliser in a 1-1 draw in South Africa in 2010.
Those painful memories have clearly made a dent in English football’s usually cast-iron psyche.
Southgate, speaking to reporters on the eve of the match, made it clear England had no right to feel superior to the US even though they go into the game as heavy favourites.
“Have we ever beaten the US at a World Cup? No. Tomorrow we have to try and make history,” Southgate said on Thursday.
“We are good at talking highly of ourselves as a nation on very little evidence. We know we will face a very highly motivated team. I don’t think we will be underestimating the US at all.”
England crushed Iran 6-2 in their group opener, while the US were held to a 1-1 draw by Wales.
But Southgate is well aware of the threat posed by a US team featuring several Premier League players, including Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic and Leeds duo Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson.
Southgate also has immense respect for US coach Gregg Berhalter, who has sought advice from the England boss on several occasions.
“Tomorrow’s game will be very different to the first match. They press the ball well and have players with experience in top European leagues,” Southgate said.
“I’ve enjoyed my interactions with Gregg. I’ve learned a lot from him. They have progressed a lot under him, as I expected.”
Southgate’s fondness for Berhalter didn’t stop him taking a friendly swipe at the coach for persuading teenage prodigy Yunus Musah to represent the US rather than England.
Musah, born in the US to Ghanian parents, spent time in England as a child and represented the country’s youth teams.
“He took one of ours, which we weren’t very happy about. But fair play,” Southgate said.
Once again, Southgate was asked to play politician over the controversy sparked by FIFA reportedly pressuring the captains of several European teams not to wear a rainbow armband in support of the LGBTQ community at the World Cup.
England captain Harry Kane was due to wear the ‘OneLove’ armband until a last-minute change of heart.
Germany players covered their mouths during a team photo prior to their defeat against Japan on Wednesday in a gesture of protest against FIFA.
But, asked if England would make a protest of their own, Southgate said: “No I don’t think we should feel any pressure. I think there is a risk everyone tries to escalate. Do we have to come up with a better gesture than Germany did?
“We have to be comfortable that we know what we stand for. If we are rushing to be seen to do something we can make an error that doesn’t land well.
“Myself and the players have to be focused on the games.”
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