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LONDON (AP) — Harry Maguire doesn’t need reminding just how miserable it could feel being an England fan.
When the team lost to Iceland at the last European Championship, Maguire was there in the stands in Nice watching one of the lowest moments in the nation’s sporting history.
“Some disappointing nights,” Maguire said Monday. “But when I look back, supporting and following my country it’s always been great times because I’m there watching my idols, watching people who I looked up to when I was a young kid.”
Now supporters are looking up to Maguire.
The Manchester United center back is part of a new generation of players who were drafted into the national squad to restore the reputation of English soccer after the nadir of 2016.
He was there in Russia for the run to the 2018 World Cup semifinals and he scored in the 4-0 victory over Ukraine on Saturday that set up a semifinal meeting with Denmark at Euro 2020 on Wednesday.
“Back-to-back semifinals in a major tournaments is a great achievement,” the 28-year-old Maguire said at the team's St. George's Park training base. “But at the moment we are sat here and we want to go further. That’s our mentality. That’s our focus.
“During the past, I don’t really look back and think of the miserable times. I look back at watching England and it was great times during my childhood, obviously some disappointing nights."
Maguire was a youngster when Sven-Goran Eriksson’s teams featuring David Beckham were seen as underachieving by only reaching quarterfinals at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, and Euro 2004.
But then came the failure to even qualify for Euro 2008 under Steve McClaren.
While Fabio Capello did lead England back into the World Cup in 2010, the performances were abject before being knocked out by Germany.
It was back to another English coach when Roy Hodgson replaced the Italian and there was a return to the quarterfinals at Euro 2012 before the familiar pain of a penalty shootout loss returned against Italy.
Despite the failure to win any group games at the 2014 World Cup before leaving Brazil, Hodgson stayed in charge. Only after that embarrassment against Iceland did Hodgson leave the job in 2016.
There was more chaos to come when Sam Allardyce lasted only 67 days in charge before being caught in a newspaper sting. It turned out to be perhaps the most welcome mishap, with Gareth Southgate convinced to accept the promotion from the England under-21 team he had been reluctant to take.
Since then, Southgate has unexpectedly changed England’s mindset and reconnected the team with its fanbase — aided by going deep in tournaments in the pursuit of a first national title since the 1966 World Cup.
“We’ll probably have a little bit more belief going into the Denmark game than what we did in the Croatia game,” Maguire said, recalling the 2018 World Cup loss. “We hadn’t been to a semifinal in so long as a country, so that belief wasn’t there. I’m sure the fans are believing more now.”
Maguire has been part of a defense that has not conceded a goal in any of England's five games heading into the semifinals.
“They’re getting more experiences of England that are positive and enjoyable and they’re feeling what it can be like to be in an England shirt and have fun and win matches," Southgate said, “and have a relationship with the fans that is positive.”
Whereas once England was a punchline, now celebrities are eager to be associated with being a fan again.
It took a conversation with James Corden, the host of The Late Late Show on CBS, for England midfielder Declan Rice to consider the scale his team’s run at the European Championship.
“Do you actually understand what you are doing?” Rice recounted Corden asking in a FaceTime chat after England's victory over Germany last week.
“It has not hit me yet," Rice said. “And even when the tournament has finished it probably won’t hit me until my career finishes.”
England will be hoping this tournament doesn't finish until the final on Sunday, and with a first European Championship title.
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Rob Harris, The Associated Press