Sore heads all round this morning. Perhaps I’m still drunk. But my wasn’t it worth it? England are in a Semi-Final of a World Cup for the first time since 1990. Here’s a look at some of the key reasons why we’re there.
Of course when you win it’s great, but when you win playing good football it’s even better. The system changed to 3 at the back before the tournament and it’s finally brought England into the 21st century as a footballing side. The freedom it allows the attacking players is one of the great strengths of this side, the pace from defence to attack is frightening at times. Long gone are the static 4-4-2 days of Hodgson, Capello, McLaren and Eriksson.
Due to the failures of past tournaments, the expectations of the team weren’t great before this World Cup. The draw was kind and we all were dreaming of maybe getting to a quarter-final for the first time in 12 years. That has been and gone and we’re now dreaming of the trophy, but the low expectations has to have helped the players.
3. Breaking Boundaries:
For the first time in years we have a national side that connects with the fans. They want to meet supporters. They want to do interviews. They’re happy to give up their time. This is all down to Gareth Southgate. A meet-the-players exercise before the tournament with the media was a master stroke by the manager. All 23 players sat behind individual desks allowing journalists from tv, radio and newspapers to ask them anything and get to know them. It put the media on side from the start, and like it or not we need that as we are all influenced by what we see and read. We are, for the first time ever, all on the same page.
4. Set Pieces:
The fact is that 8 out of England’s 11 goals have come from set plays. An incredible statistic that shows just how vital they are for us. Every time England get a corner or a free kick, they look like scoring and that’s a dangerous weapon to have. At corners the ‘Love Train’ – as Glenn Hoddle calls it – comes into play. Kane, Maguire and Stones stand in a line tight to each other and separate off as the ball comes in. Very difficult to mark your man when this is going on. All three have now scored from corner kicks. Add to that Harry Kane’s 3 penalties and you realise how important set pieces are to England in Russia.
5. The Manager:
Gareth Southgate is the most dignified manager England have had since Bobby Robson. He’s polite, passionate, open minded, understanding and trustworthy. He reacts positively to criticism. He sets an example for his players to follow. He’s been there, done that. His penalty miss in Euro 96 has made him the man he is today. During the penalty shootout against Colombia, he picked the penalty takers. He didn’t ask who fancied it, as that’s where people can hide. He knows what that is like from Euro 96, where bigger names like Ince, Mcmanaman and Adams hid against Germany in the shootout, which forced Southgate to step up. He’s very grounded too, not getting carried away with each win, but all the while hoping people are having a good time back home. And who would’ve thought he could be a trendsetter with the waistcoat?? What a bloke.
6. The Captain:
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too chuffed about Kane being named the captain before the tournament. I thought Henderson should’ve got it. But what do I know?! He is simply outstanding as England’s skipper. Harry Kane leads by example. He leads from the front. The pressure on that man’s shoulders is unreal, but he takes it all in his stride. England have a leaders group in the changing room that decide things, with Kane, Henderson, Stones, Young and Delph all involved. This helps Kane to get on with the important things like scoring goals. He has scored 3 penalties in this tournament and one in a shootout so far. All despatched expertly. His two poacher goals against Tunisia were vital to get England’s World Cup going. At 24 years old, it seems already inevitable that he will beat Rooney’s goalscoring record. This man will be our leader for years to come.
England went into this World Cup with the youngest squad of the entire tournament and their youngest squad ever at a major competition. Only 3 players are over the age of 30. You can see this in their play on the field, the tempo is quick, the players are fearless. The members of this squad haven’t been through many disappointments in an England shirt. There’s nothing hanging over them like past players. They are not afraid to lose and they don’t worry what’s being written about them. It’s brilliant to see. If England do the unthinkable and actually win the World Cup, you could see them going on to win more major tournaments. Many have played for Southgate at Under 21 level, they are familiar with each other and they’ve grown up together. They’re like brothers who look out for each other. Long may this continue.
I was 12 years old when England last got to a semi-final at Euro 96. When they were last in a World Cup semi, I was 6 and barely remember it. This is uncharted territory for most of us. If they beat Croatia and get to the final the whole country will shut down on Sunday 15th July. We now have a national team to be proud of. Whatever happens on Wednesday, to me football has already come home, and it feels amazing. 🏴