Euro 2020: Ukrainian manager Andriy Shevchenko says England “shouldn’t scare us”
The great danger for England is to see the victory against Germany as a great success and not to be so prepared for the meeting with Ukraine.
If England’s next game had been against a team like France, it wouldn’t have been a problem for the players to be excited. Since this is Ukraine, the public will at least assume that this is a very winnable game. The big risk is that the next game will not be played at the intensity at which it should be or that the concentration levels are not at the required levels.
Players need to consciously rethink the last time they played in one big game and then had a disappointment in the next. They need to consider why and what to do to avoid these pitfalls this time around.
Maybe the equivalent scenario is in 2018. A lot of people in England went into Croatia’s semi-final thinking, “The World Cup final, here we are!” But we did not succeed.
Gareth Southgate will know what it’s like to go through multiple laps of a major competition, so when he speaks to the players he will speak in a position of authority.
England need to approach this as just a football game, and Southgate would do well to say so publicly. They have to play with intensity and passion, but make it like another game that you want to win. Conviction will come from overcoming setbacks and Southgate must stress that we have learned from previous disappointments. The mantra must be: We will not repeat the Russian 2018 mistake.
Southgate will almost certainly change its setup for Ukraine anyway – tactically the game is a different proposition – but it will have the added benefit of providing a psychological break for players that allows them to attack it as a new challenge.
It is essential to look at the specific problems that Ukraine presents and determine how we can address them. For creative players and defensive players, these issues will be different, so it’s about finding individual solutions to individual problems.
The energizing factor will be having a clear plan and a clear set of goals. Players will use psychological skills such as imagery to see themselves played successfully and at a high intensity to overcome the challenges presented to them.
For example, Raheem Sterling might imagine himself dropping a shoulder one way and then going the other to enter the game with a high degree of confidence.
Sure, playing in Rome – as opposed to a feverish Wembley – will make a difference, but a quiet stadium with a small or neutral crowd shouldn’t confuse them after a year of ‘pandemic football’.
The crowds in Rome may be indifferent or even support Ukraine. If he is neutral, England would do well to try to rally them. Usain Bolt competing at the Rio Olympics in 2016 is a great example: he used press conferences to bond with locals by dancing samba and expressing his happiness to be there.
Southgate should try to replicate that – maybe not the dancing element, but he could tell how grateful England is to be in Italy and to promote the country’s football history, as well as the quality and expertise of the fans.
If England can do it all, the blow of losing the home advantage can be mitigated.
By Professor Andy Lane, Sports Psychologist at the Center for Health and Human Performance at the University of Wolverhampton.