Gareth Southgate adamant England won’t fall foul of Italian dark arts

Gareth Southgate claims streetwise England have learned the tricks of the trade and will not fall prey to any dark arts from Italy.

The Three Lions showed brilliant game management to run the clock down against Denmark after winning Wednesday's semi-final thriller with a controversial penalty.

Now they face the masters of gamesmanship, tactical fouls and diving – but Southgate claims they are ready for the challenge as they bid to make history in Sunday's final.

He said: “I think the players have learned a lot over the last three or four years. We talked to them about that.

“We used to talk to the Under-21s about that – it was one of the biggest areas we had to improve upon. And we still can be better at it.

“The first five minutes of that second half of extra-time against Denmark, we had the man advantage and didn’t really keep the ball well enough.

“There was opportunities to keep the ball far better than we did. But we worked it out. They did that really well and we have got the technicians to be able to do it.

“We weren’t perfect. We deserved the win on the amount of chances we created and some of the attacking play.

“I guess it was never going to be perfect with so much at stake. But we felt that they’d learned enough over the last few years to handle an occasion like this.”

England finally got over the hump in a semi final after Harry Kane scored an extra-time winner on a gripping, nerve-shredding night at Wembley.

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Kane scored on the rebound after missing a penalty won by Raheem Sterling that the Danes complained was a dive.

After that Denmark went down to ten men when Mathias Jensen got injured after they had used all their subs, and England played keep-ball to kill the game off.

But even though he does not feel Italy have an advantage in streetwise stakes, Southgate does think having an extra day to prepare could give them an edge.

The Italians beat Spain on penalties 24 hours before England’s emotionally draining night of glory – and are now unbeaten in 33 games.

And Southgate said: “It is definitely a bit of a disadvantage but we have to find the best way of dealing with that.

“The biggest thing is psychological fatigue. The players are fit and we're very professional. We don't overload them in training. We don't overtrain.

“But it's the psychological freshness that's the key. We’ve tried to let them enjoy their downtime to get that psychological freshness right to create that energy.

“Now we have an immense challenge against a top opponent that I was hearing last night have been to 12 semi-finals, ten finals. Italy’s record is phenomenal.

“We’ve got a huge task ahead of us but one that we’ll take on with relish.”

Southgate also believes the way England came from behind after conceding for the first time in the tournament proves they have the mental strength to finish the job.

He said: “It was great to see them respond so well to going a goal behind. I’m really pleased with the way we responded to the first major setback in the tournament.

“We weren’t behind for too long and teams that have won in the past have been able to do that. We have a wonderful opportunity and we’ll be ready to go.”

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