No, football is not coming home this time around. England lost to Croatia 2-1 in extra time. However, unlike previous tournaments, although I am gutted, I am not left with the usual frustrations and anger towards our national team. I am hugely proud of what our young Lions have achieved in this tournament.
A temporary limit only
In Croatia England were playing a team that were time served, had perhaps the best midfielder on the planet in Modric, and the best midfield right now. This was always going to be a huge test for our young team who had had the rub of the green so far in terms of the draw and the opposition. Anyone who thought Croatia should have been a team we should be sweeping aside doesn’t really understand football. And for anyone stating the FIFA rankings and that they were ranked below us also doesn’t understand that the FIFA rankings are absolutely useless.
We were in charge during the first half, and should have been three up at half time after we were once again not clinical enough in front of goal. I always felt one goal wasn’t going to be enough, and in the end it proved to be.
England were spent on the field, they left everything out there. Tired legs, tired minds. The World Cup is always gruelling, and we saw that on Wednesday evening. Croatia’s experience and key world-class players created the opportunities they needed to seal the win. Right now England don’t have a true world-class standout player. We have Kane and Rashford, but I would ague that they’re not yet on the level of Modric or Mbappe.
But, that is perhaps what makes this run even more impressive. England have a good squad, not stellar, but of solid quality. In Gareth Southgate we have a manager that has actually been able to gel a team together, man-manage each player to bring the best of their abilities out of them and to craft a system designed to hurt the other team. How long is it that we have had a national team manager who understands the game like Gareth does?
I feel as though this was the limit to the England team, but only for a short period of time. The England squad was the second youngest team on average in the whole tournament, which means there is plenty more football to be played and experienced to be collected before the next major tournament rolls on by. That means so much more room grow as a team and in quality. In two or four years time perhaps we will be talking about the likes of Rashford in the same terms as Modric or Messi.
I can promise you this, when Euro 2020 comes by there will be so much more enthusiasm and interest in that tournament than previous Euros. England, assuming we qualify, will be considered one of the favourites after achieving what we did this year. In two years time our young squad will have more caps, more international game time, more experience and more maturity. So long as Gareth keeps doing what he has been doing then we have so much to look forward to. It’s been a long time since I have been able to think like that about the national team!
I am massively proud of the whole team, Gareth as manager and all the staff in the background that have helped England get as far as they have done. They have been able to bring together a nation that was at risk of questioning it’s own identity and fading into irrelevance. This World Cup run has given nearly 60m England fans something to bond over, to support and shout about. I haven’t seen such support for our national team in a very long time, and it is all down to the way each and every player put everything out on the pitch. Every single player was genuinely proud to wear the shirt. The played with pride, passion and 100% effort and commitment. It’s been so long since we have seen a national squad do that.
It’s the reason why that as we lose a semi final, the whole country has found a new level of pride and respect for the national team. They played as a unit, united towards a single goal. No egos, no attitudes, just total commitment and effort. I am once again proud to support the English national team.
So, as our neighbours over the borders cry sour grapes at a tournament they didn’t even manage to qualify for, some perspective would be useful here.
- this young Lions team progressed way further than even their own fans thought they would
- the under 21’s came third in the Euros
- the under 20’s won their World Cup
- the under 19’s won their Euros
- the under 17’s won their World Cup
- the women’s team came their in their World Cup
When you look at the English football does have a bright future. Our younger teams are reaching the latter stages of the major tournaments, often winning them. As prospects for the senior team goes, that pretty damn good. What is reassuring is that there now appears to be an established stream of talent ready to feed into the senior squad, and with someone with a footballing brain like that of Gareth Southgate, England have a solid pool of talent from which to develop.
The national mood
This World Cup run has been good for us. It has been a genuine cause to get behind, and coupled with the fine weather we have been having, it’s going to be a summer that we’re all going to remember for a very long time. Even the economy has been given a boost from it!
Social media has been overall glowing of our team, which has been really good to see. So often it has been the venting place for so much frustration. As of now, we have a team that we know is proud to put the shirt on and lay it all on the line for their country. The fans know that as well.
It has been amusing to see Scottish football fans celebrating England’s loss to Croatia. Some from Wales and Ireland have been doing the same. It’s worth pointing out that England actually qualified for the tournament in the first place. Just saying.
The next day or so is going to feel rather flat of course after so much excitement for the best part of a month. But, we have one more game to play on Saturday in the third place play-off against Belgium. Both teams will be smarting for their semi-final losses. England though have to pick themselves up for that game and do their best to bring home the Bronze medals after their exploits. We as England fans need to pick ourselves up too and get behind them once again. We have a proper squad again, and we can’t just back them when we think they could get to a final, we have to support this young team to help them develop and grow together too.
The disappointment will last a few days, but on reflection we all know England over-achieved this time round and the future looks very positive for Euro 2020 and World Cup 2022. I am very proud of our boys and they can all hold their heads high. Your country is behind you all 100%!
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