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'Their togetherness is key' - why there is more to come from England

Alan Shearer's BBC Sport column
[BBC]

A week or so ago, I didn't really believe England would reach the semi-finals of Euro 2024 but the manager and the players did, as they kept on telling us.

Let's not get carried away just yet, but now we are into the last four, then of course everyone else will start to think we can go on and win it too. I know the England fans in Dusseldorf do.

The most important thing is that we are through - and the most encouraging thing is that there is more to come from this team.

We can still play better than we did against Switzerland, but togetherness is worth its weight in gold and Gareth Southgate and his players have clearly got that in abundance.

Pressure? What pressure?

Relief is the first thing I feel whenever England win any penalty shootout but for our players against Switzerland on Saturday, it did not seem to be a problem.

Pressure? What pressure. They all put away perfect penalties, and it was wonderful to watch.

Gareth deserves a lot of credit for that, because you have to bear in mind what happened in the final of the last European Championship, when we lost a shootout against Italy three years ago.

That night, he did not make changes to bring his takers on quickly enough. Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho only came on in the final seconds of extra-time, and both of them missed from the spot.

This time, I thought Gareth's timing of bringing on Ivan Toney and Trent Alexander-Arnold with a few minutes left gave them enough time to be settled down for the shootout, as they both showed when they stepped up.

Whenever I watch a shootout, I feel sorry for the players because I have been there and I know how hard it is, but England's players made it look easy.

A big part of that is down to Gareth getting them ready for this situation. He's been there and missed a penalty, at Euro '96, so he knows what it feels like as a player to step up under that kind of pressure, and, as a manager, he knows the right preparation is absolutely key to dealing with it.

He has given them a plan, and they stuck to it and did exactly what they had been practising.

Look at Cole Palmer. He had not started an England game until six weeks ago - now all of a sudden, he is stepping up first in a European Championship quarter-final with around 20 million people watching back home, and he just sticks it away like he is playing with his mates in the park.

A step-up from what we've seen before

Graphic showing England's starting XI v Switzerland: Pickford, Walker, Stones, Konsa, Trippier, Mainoo, Rice, Saka, Bellingham, Foden, Kane
[BBC]

Gareth gets a lot of stick when things go wrong, so he deserves some praise when he gets the big calls right.

He changed his system to play three at the back against Switzerland and although it was far from a perfect performance, it was certainly a step up from what we have seen in Germany until now.

We were higher up the pitch for a start, and our pressing was much better too.

Yes, we had to suffer a bit as well in the second half, when Switzerland had spells with the ball, but that is always going to happen at this level. They were the best team we have faced so far and, most of the time, we defended well.

Switzerland were the first to make changes in the second half and the players they brought on improved them and gave them more energy.

I thought Gareth might have made his substitutions earlier, but once the Swiss scored, he had to make them and he did not hesitate. As we found out, it was the right thing to do.

We had to react after going 1-0 down and when you are in trouble like that, you look for big moments from your big players.

Jude Bellingham provided one to rescue us against Slovakia in the last 16 but this time it was Bukayo Saka who made the difference, at exactly the right time.

What a finish it was too, by the way. We've seen him do the same thing so many times down the years, cutting in from the right and letting fly, but this time he almost caressed the ball into the bottom corner.

England fans played their part too

This was the second game in a row that England have gone behind but each time they have found a way back and gone on to win.

As well as having some big players to provide the big moments you always need to progress in these tournaments, this team has shown they have got the required character too.

They showed it with everything they did in Dusseldorf, during the game and the shootout, and it was great to see the fans always stuck by them too.

It was an unbelievable atmosphere inside the stadium and there is no question that the England supporters feel a connection with this team now.

Wins like this are even bigger than the way we beat Slovakia last time out, because they get everyone on board, but that is what I felt anyway from being in the stands.

I don't know how many England fans were here but it felt as if they took the place over and it was carnage in a good way. They were impeccably behaved but were in full voice and they definitely played their part.

They will have a smile on their faces for the next few days before they head to Dortmund to take on the Dutch and so will Gareth and his players - they have been under huge pressure but delivered when it mattered most.

Alan Shearer was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan in Germany.