Gareth Southgate believes England have reconnected with fans that not so long ago were jeering his team and aiming paper planes at them.
Passion and excitement for the national team has waned in recent years, thanks in no small part to a group-stage exit at the last World Cup and the galling Euro 2016 defeat to Iceland.
Southgate was parachuted into the hot seat, having initially been reluctant to step into the English void, and has overseen an impressive change in fortunes since taking the reins.
England reached the World Cup and then the last 16 with a match to spare, with Colombia next up in Moscow tomorrow. “The players have been able to change perceptions of how an England team might play,” Southgate said. “We mustn’t lose sight of that.
“Ten months ago we qualified for the World Cup by beating Slovenia and people were throwing paper airplanes on to the pitch at Wembley. We were driving back to our hotel after beating Malta with some obscene chants being thrown at us from supporters.”
Southgate added: “I feel like we’ve started to connect the team with the public again. I feel like we’ve created excitement, like we’ve played in a style that has really shown an expression of what young English players are capable of, and I want us to continue doing that.”
England are looking to win a first knock-out match since 2006, building on the goodwill that increased with the Group G victories over Tunisia and Panama.
“I really believe in the group of players we have got,” Southgate said. “They are young. They are inexperienced. For some of them, this will be one of the biggest games they’ll have been involved in, but maybe not the biggest. We’ve always got to keep that in context for the players.”