England coach Southgate targeted after a 0-0 draw with Slovenia at Euro 2024

England has advanced to the knockout stage of Euro 2024 as group winner after a 0-0 draw against Slovenia

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COLOGNE, Germany (AP) — Top of the group, unbeaten and on the favorable side of the draw for the knockout phase of Euro 2024. It’s a case of job done for England at this stage of the tournament.

Try telling that to the fans who jeered loudly and threw beer cups as the final whistle blew on a 0-0 draw with Slovenia at Cologne Stadium on Tuesday.

Criticism of England's performances in Germany has been fierce.

“I’ve not seen any team qualify and receive similar,” manager Gareth Southgate said.

Southgate believes he and his England team could be paying the price for its success under his leadership. Safe passage through to the round of 16 maintains his personal record of advancing from the group stage of every major tournament he's taken charge of, dating back to the World Cup in 2018.

“I think probably expectation (is different). We’ve made England over the last six or seven years fun again. I think it has been enjoyable for the players,” Southgate said. “We’ve got to be very, very careful that it stays that way.”

England hasn't been fun to watch at these Euros with a 1-0 win against Serbia its only victory in Group C. That was followed by a 1-1 draw with Denmark and the scoreless draw with Slovenia.

Three games, two goals and a whole lot of underwhelmed fans.

The performance against Denmark was apparently so uninspired that former captain and now BBC presenter Gary Lineker used an expletive to describe it. And despite claiming he was "oblivious" to Lineker's stinging critique, it contributed to the "unusual environment" Southgate said he was working in at this tournament.

The atmosphere was hardly helped by plastic beer cups being thrown on the field as Southgate and his players went to applaud England supporters after the match.

“I’m not going to back down from going over and thanking the fans who were brilliant during the game," he said. “They might feel differently towards me. But for me, we only will succeed if we are together.”

Southgate led England to the semifinals of the World Cup in 2018 and the final of the last Euros. But his team will likely need a sharp upturn in form if it is to live up to its pre-tournament billing as one of the favorites for the European title.

Still, England has at least ended up on the opposite side of the draw to Spain, France, Germany and Portugal and will play one of the best third-place teams in the next round after advancing as group winner.

“That was the aim before the start of the tournament. Come top of the group and control our destiny,” captain Harry Kane said.

The result also meant Slovenia reached the round of 16 for the first time and Croatia was eliminated.

“We are such a small country, with such a big heart and mental strength. That’s why I’m very proud of my team,” coach Matjaz Kek said. “This is only the beginning for a new and beautiful era for Slovenian football.”

While it was a proud night for Slovenians, it was another performance that highlighted England’s attacking issues, with substitute Cole Palmer coming closest to scoring a winner in stoppage time.

“You can’t go into every game with such pressure and score four goals. Football doesn’t work like that,” Southgate said. “It is important to win the group to control your own destiny.”

A masked Kylian Mbappé scored his first goal of the Euros, but France drew 1-1 with Poland to finish runner-up in Group D behind Austria, which beat the Netherlands 3-2.

Mbappé wore a protective mask after breaking his nose in France’s opening game against Austria and scored from the penalty spot. But Robert Lewandowski’s twice-taken spot kick gave already eliminated Poland its first point of the tournament.

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

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