Whilst England’s World Cup adventure is over, the ramifications of their semi-final heroics have penetrated layers much deeper than simply being one of the top four teams in the world. Gareth Southgate and his team have sparked a connection with the fans, a glimmer of hope, excitement and pride that had all but been lost with recent England generations. For the first time in a long time, fans had reason to cheer, celebrate and rejoice at the English national team at a time when many had fallen out of love with international football.
In the preview of the match, I had dubbed it “the last chance of a golden generation and the coming of a new generation” which is also something that we should be emphasising in the aftermath of yesterday’s result, being one of the youngest squads at the tournament only shows that this is merely the beginning of this young team. Whereas for opponents Croatia this was certainly the lasts hopes of their ‘golden generation’.
This experience drop-off could perhaps be seen in the match, not only with the players but the manager. There was a certain tactical naivety surrounding the team, especially given the second half performance and Southgate’s unwillingness to attempt to nullify Croatia’s threat from the full backs, who were often left unmarked given our wing backs were occupied by their wingers. The job of marking Vrsaljko and Strinic was tasked to Lingard and Alli, whose central starting position allowed Vrsaljko in particular plenty of room, as was the case for their equalising goal from Perisic. But, as has been said, this tournament should be a building block, a foundation for future success, and just as we expect this young team to grow we should also expect Southgate to grow as well.
With success at youth level’s in recent years, including a U-17 and U-20 World Cup, a U-19 Euro’s and a trio of back to back to back Toulon tournaments. The future is looking bright, and not just with the success of the main national team this summer. With emerging talents such as Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount, there is hope that this young England team can go again for the 2020 Euros. As part of a pan-European tournament, Wembley has been selected as the venue to host the semi-finals and final of the tournament. After the experiences and growth witnessed this summer an England team with full support will be a sight to behold in a couple of years especially given the chance to play a semi-final or final on home soil.
However, there is also a sense of natural devastation that comes with being so close to football’s showpiece event and also a sense of this may have been our best chance for a long time to reach such heights, which, given the nature of the underdog stories in this World Cup and the surprise exits of football’s usually dominant nations such as Germany, Argentina, Brazil and Spain, there has to be at least some sense of yesterday’s semi-final exit being our best chance to bring football home.
Though, that is not to take away from the inspiring and determined effort shown by England, who made us all fall in love with the Three Lions again.