The World Cup 2018 journey is over for England, as the Three Lions suffered a 2-1 against Croatia after extra-time on Wednesday night. In truth, the night was tinged with many different emotions.
There was obvious saddest at England’s exit, pride at how far the young team had come in Russia, and also a slight hint of regret that we did not score a second goal in a first half of domination. In the end, Croatia had too much experience and more importantly too much quality for Gareth Southgate’s team. There is plenty to take from the defeat for England, though.
Reaching the semi-finals is a significant achievement
Some will say England had a comfortable route to the semi-finals. However, a team can only beat the opposition that is put in front of them, and England did just that at World Cup 2018.
For England to make just their third World Cup semi-final in history is a major achievement. It is an even more significant achievement when you realise the inexperience of the England players at international level.
The likes of Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier had barely featured for England before the tournament. It was the fearlessness of inexperience that helped the Three Lions make it through to the last four.
However, it was also inexperience that led to the team not retaining the ball well enough, especially in the second half to win the game.
Boss will have learnt a lot
England boss Gareth Southgate has handled himself with great dignity at the World Cup. He does not get too excited or too down at results. In fact, he seemed to have achieved the perfect balance.
He has indeed come so far from a boss that nobody wanted to a man who has inspired the youngest ever England World Cup squad to the semi-finals. Southgate should receive high praise for his efforts.
However, regarding experience at the top level, Southgate is still a relative managerial rookie and has a lot to learn. As harsh as it sounds, in terms of the Croatia game, he failed to come up with the answers to win the game.
One significant example of that was the fact that Croatia right-back Sime Vrsaljko was his team’s outlet ball. It was evident for everybody to see that he was an attacking threat. Repeatedly the Atletico Madrid full-back received the ball and surged forward.
That meant that the England midfield three had to shuffle across, which Dele Alli struggled to do just out of exhaustion. Surely, it would have been better to have sacrificed one of the forwards, and stopped those constant runs.
However, Southgate decided to allow the full-back to continue those runs and the Three Lions were punished by Ivan Perisic scoring the equalising goal from a Vrsaljko cross. From then on, Croatia never looked like losing the game. The Three Lions failed to mount a cohesive attack in the second half or extra-time. Small details can make the difference between a team becoming champions or not.
I hope that Gareth can become an even better boss in future for his experience this summer. Despite the early doubts about him, he has shown some managerial promise.
The former Middlesbrough boss has already restored the faith in the team. Hopefully this new found hope and joy of watching England play sticks around longer than just the World Cup.
Third/fourth-place game on Saturday
England still have one game left at World Cup 2018, which is a third-fourth place play-off against Belgium on Saturday, a match in which they are odds of 23/10 to win.
In reality, though, I doubt either side will be looking forward to the game with much enthusiasm. Barely anybody remembers who finishes third and fourth at a World Cup, as it is just a paltry consolation prize when it comes to what may have been.
However, from what this England team has shown in Russia this summer, they are likely to give it their all. The Three Lions have roared courtesy of a bunch of unlikely heroes.
This team seem more down to earth and seem to have enjoyed their tournament, unlike previous squads. I hope that they can go on and enjoy many semi-finals in the future.
Did England deserve to lose their semi-final against Croatia?
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