GARETH SOUTHGATE has urged his England team to make history tonight as they take on Croatia in the World Cup semi-finals.
The Three Lions manager called the match in Moscow a ‘great opportunity’ to reach the final for the first time since 1966. Roads, trains and shops back home are expected to be deserted after the ‘earliest rush-hour of the year’ as workers get away for kick-off at 7pm. Ladbrokes has offered odds of 5/1 on the TV audience beating the 32.3million record set when England won the ’66 final.
Southgate said, amid the divide over Brexit, the exploits of his players had helped to bring the nation closer together.
‘We are really proud of the support we’re receiving. We’ve had the chance to make a difference,’ he said.
‘Our country has been through some difficult moments recently in terms of its unity. I think sport has the power to address that, and football, in particular, has the power to do that.
‘We can feel the energy and support from home, it’s a privilege for us’.
The former England defender said for 20 years he couldn’t bear listening to Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home) — released before Euro ’96, during which he missed a penalty against Germany.
But he added ‘it’s nice to hear people enjoying it again’ now fans are chanting it once more, and with a place in the final against France up for grabs, he thinks captain Harry Kane and his side can make their dreams come true.
He pointed out the team had made ‘several pieces of history’, including England’s first-ever World Cup win on penalties. ‘Now we have a great opportunity to get to the final,’ he added. Up to 10,000 England fans will be in the stadium for the match after a scramble for tickets. Some were spotted jetting out to Russia in Southgate-style waistcoats before mingling with the Croatian fans in Moscow bars.
The RAC predicted that those of us left behind would embark on the year’s earliest commute. And Highways England said there would be a third less traffic than usual from 6pm to 11pm.
Organisers of the British Summertime concerts in Hyde Park faced huge demand after offering 30,000 free tickets to see the game on their big screen, which was being tested yesterday.
■ A PUB is charging £10 to watch England’s semi-final with Croatia. Manager Jay Vigh said the Pavillion in South Oxhey, near Watford, has struggled with huge crowds for World Cup games, and damage has been caused to a window, ceilings and carpets. Only 150 customers will be allowed and the charge includes a drink. ‘This is about what’s best for my customers, my pub and not my pocket,’ said Mr Vigh.