One may argue that all England did was beat Tunisia, Panama and Sweden while losing to Belgium twice and Croatia once. They could only draw with Colombia and had to beat them on penalties and if you said the last two sentences in a pub in Dublin, you would drink for free all day. I wouldn’t advise you to say it in an English pub though irrespective of the geographical location but the questions linger – did England progress at all in this World Cup?
Having seen a generation of high performing individuals constantly underachieve as a team – sets your expectations low for England. One may argue that having no media hype, no media expectations and no expectations as a whole from a country bitterly disappointed from past results worked in favour of the young English team and their young manager in Gareth Southgate. This is probably why the best they have at a World Cup since 1990, but one cannot overlook the fact that this is a team that has come together. And just for that Southgate should get his due credit.
Previous editions of the World Cup saw the entire team lose out due to the immature reactions of certain individuals. In 1998, David Beckham was sent off for kicking out at Argentina’s Diego Simeone. I
In 2006 it was Wayne Rooney who picked up a red card for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho in their quarter final match with Portugal, a game they would go on to lose on penalties.
Self entitlement of glamour icons and reckless acts of individual stars always got in the way of the English teams of the recent past, and there was no sense of collective camaraderie. Under Gareth Southgate however, it was a team that had moved past impetuousity and had finally come together – willing to play for each other instead of themselves. That is progress.
There was a sense of uneasiness in English teams of the recent past either in offense or defence and nobody looked settled in their roles. Players have looked uncomfortable in possession, and it was almost a frustrating watch for fans.
The non settlement and general uneasiness in defence is probably best highlighted by Brazil’s Ronaldinho getting the better of David Seaman in a free kick taken from 40 yards out at the World Cup in Japan/South Korea in 2002.
This was probably this first time in ages that England looked calm, composed, coordinated in both defence and attack. Gareth Southgate has to be credited with the building up of cohesiveness, if nothing else though one may argue further that there was a touch of free flowing fluid football that could put the Belgians to shame whenever Raheem Sterling was released to dribble inwards.
One can come up with a huge number of reason’s for England’s eventual departure from the World Cup but this team has progressed even if it looks doubtful from the consolidated results.
Harry Kane looked tired in the closing stages of the tournament and missed a plethora of chances in the semi-final as well as the 3rd/4th playoff. If only he could find his initial sharpness with which he managed to find a 91st minute winner against Tunisia, it might have been a different story.
The “if only” moments will remain but nothing can be taken away from the fact that this English unit has progressed and can be built up with the foundations already in place. The youth that played need to be properly counseled and developed and more of the youth prospects like Rhian Brewster, who has a long term contract with Liverpool but still wanted by a host of European clubs, should break in. England have to find a way where their core group can last an entire month and not lose out on their sharpness and Gareth Southgate will only build up his footballing acumen, but whether he can tiptoe across these stepping stones or not to success will be entirely down to the management by the English FA.