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Republic of Ireland great asks if ‘weight of the shirt’ is issue for insipid England

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Republic of Ireland great asks if ‘weight of the shirt’ is issue for insipid England

Harry Kane and his team mates have made it through to the quarter-finals of Euro 2024 and will take on Switzerland in their last eight match in the Merkur Spiel-Arena in Dusseldorf this evening.

Yet, their notoriously hard-to-please supporters have been alarmed at the paucity of their heroes’ performances during the past three weeks and will head to the 55,000-capacity stadium tonight in hope not expectation.

England only overcame Slovakia in their last 16 game in the Arena AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen last Sunday evening after Jude Bellingham netted a spectacular equaliser in the 95th minute and Kane then headed in an injury-time winner.

Their displays in the group stage had been every bit as bad – they only edged out Serbia 1-0 in their section opener and were then held to a 1-1 draw by Denmark and a 0-0 draw by Slovenia.

The pre-tournament favourites ended up topping Group C and going through to the knockout rounds.

But Southgate and his charges have been savaged for their insipid showings in their homeland and their prospects of lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy in Berlin a week tomorrow have been completely written off by fans and pundits.


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It is not, though, the worst that England have performed at a European Championship. Not by some distance. At Euro ’88 in West Germany they lost 1-0 to Ireland, 3-1 to eventual winners the Netherlands and 3-1 to beaten finalists the Soviet Union, finished bottom of Group 2 and failed to make it into the semi-finals.

Ray Houghton, the Glasgow-born midfielder who won 73 caps for the land of his father’s birth and who inflicted that opening defeat on them 36 years ago thanks to his early headed goal in Stuttgart, is at Euro 2024 working as a co-commentator for RTE Sport. 

Houghton has been as baffled as anyone at the failure of the team who were beaten on penalties in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley back in 2021 to play as they were expected to before the competition got underway last month and who were fancied by many to go all the way this time around.

(Image: PA) “It is hard to put your finger on why England have been so disappointing when you look at the exceptional players they have up front,” he said yesterday during a break in his preparations for the quarter-final between France and Portugal in Hamburg.

“Phil Foden scored 27 goals for Manchester City last season and helped them to win their fourth consecutive Premier League title. Bukayo Saka scored 20 goals for Arsenal in all competitions.

“Then you have got Harry Kane who has scored over 40 goals for Bayern Munich and England and Jude Bellingham who has scored over 20 goals for Real Madrid and helped them to win La Liga and the Champions League.

“It is no wonder there has been such disappointment at how they have played with those four players at their disposal in forward areas. They were minutes, seconds even, away from going out against Slovakia and were lucky to go through. It is difficult to say why it has not been happening for them with the talent they have.

“Perhaps the weight of the shirt is a bit too much for some of them, I don’t know. But they are still in it and they have not played well. I am sure that Gareth will be thinking, ‘Look, we can still turn this around here and have a successful tournament if we start playing the way we can’.”


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Houghton, the Castlemilk-raised footballer who played for Fulham, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace in a professional career which spanned four decades, helped the Republic of Ireland to reach the quarter-finals of Italia ’90 and the last 16 of USA ’94.

He believes England need to take a more positive approach against Switzerland in order to prevail this evening and go through to the second semi-final in Dortmund on Wednesday night.

“They need to start on the front foot,” he said. “They need to put their foot on the ball in midfield and be far more positive in possession than they have been so far at Euro 2024. It will be a tough game against the Swiss, but they have certainly got the players who can hurt them if they can get the service they need to them. But they need to go on the offensive more than they have been for me.”

Houghton has been working for RTE Sport for the duration of the Euro 2024 finals and he acknowledges that the standard of many of the games he has covered has left much to be desired. “Some of the football has been good, some of it has not been so good,” he said. “But I think there is still time for it to really come to life. I hope it does.”

(Image: PA) The Ireland legend though has enjoyed every minute of being in Germany and thinks the fans, not least the Tartan Army, have been the undoubted stars of the tournament to date.

“The atmosphere has been outstanding in the cities and in the stadiums,” he said. “The colours, the jerseys, the flags and the noise which the supporters have generated have been brilliant. They have made the Euros for me. I did Scotland’s first two games and their fans were just incredible.”

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