England may be out of the World Cup, but their players will go home with their heads held high.
That might be standard for many nations as they return home following an exit from an international tournament, but it’s not for England.
Too many competitions have come and gone, with not only an early exit but humiliation and a national mood that’s unhappy and scornful to say the least.
This time however, people are actually looking towards the future, and hoping this England side, led by Gareth Southgate, can do far more.
Full video of @GarethSouthgate’s long-awaited emergence from the tunnel – precisely 70 minutes after the final whistle. The @England fans had been chanting for him non-stop while he was inside conducting all his media duties. #mixedemotions #Eng pic.twitter.com/u1BO08uJAe
— Jacqui Oatley (@JacquiOatley) July 12, 2018
In fact, Harry Kane himself noted that England won’t have to wait this long again for another World Cup semi-final, and that the future is bright.
It certainly is, and with Gareth Southgate in charge and a young side who can grow together, there’s no reason England can’t do this again in the future.
Yes, the draw opened up this time, and it’s understandable that people are remarking this may not happen again – but other sides crashed out before and they will do it again.
England may have faced a tough test in Croatia, but they’re the so-called golden generation of their side, with a political situation at home that makes England’s falling and shambolic government and Brexit attempts look positively successful.
They feel it’s their time, and it may well be come full time on Sunday evening, should they get past a very good France side – but no one thought it would be England’s time, and anything past the group stages was considered a bonus – and rightly so.
That’s not to say England fans and players don’t have the right to be disappointed, they certainly do. Once you’re in a World Cup semi-final, anything can happen, and the players knew they were within touching distance of the final. It wasn’t to be, but that’s a lesson the players will learn from.
As will manager Gareth Southgate, who is of course still very young – and learning. Not only will the feeling of the loss stay with the players, but the memory of what they need to do, and how deeply they need to dig next time to avoid that feeling will certainly push them on.
As a former @England player, I wanted to say how proud I am of what @GarethSouthgate and his team accomplished this @FIFAWorldCup. I’m sure the players will be disappointed not to have reached the final, but there is so much to be hopeful about for the future.
— Sir Bobby Charlton (@SirBobby) July 12, 2018
Southgate will learn from his tactical mistakes, and may not admit it publicly, but privately he will know England were a bit naive and players like John Stones slightly lost their heads at times – something they will learn from as well, and something that can only help England in the future.
The midfield could have done with more experience and more legs towards the end of the game against Croatia, and anyone who doubted Raheem Sterling and his importance to the England side only needed to see what happened when he came off in the semi-final.
The other thing people have remarked on is the fact that the squad are finally united – it’s not the case that club rivalries and issues are being honoured over country – the players get on, and it shows.
It’s all about them and their families, not their WAGs running round Baden-Baden buying Chardonnay and dancing on tables, and the whole atmosphere Gareth Southgate has fostered has been as key – if not more so than anything else.
This England side doesn’t have a superstar – yet – there may be one in the future, someone like Raheem Sterling may develop into one, but against Croatia when Luka Modric ran the show in the middle of the park, England were lacking someone truly world class, and while Kane scores for fun the majority of the time, it’s not him.
He’s a goalscorer, but in terms of his overall play, he’s a centre forward – not a Ronaldo in his prime, or indeed a Ronaldo at the grand old age of 33 – and he might be on his way to the Golden Boot, but it’s not all about that, and despite bargaining his daughter’s life for a goal he claimed to have scored last season, the player has noted he’d obviously rather see England in the final and not have a Golden Boot.
Of course, at his age, Kane could well have both in the future, and game management of his time on the field, for both Tottenham Hotspur and England, could be looked into – because come the quarter-finals, the player looked shattered and had carried his club and national side for big parts of the season without much of a break.
England and Kane are gutted, it wouldn’t be human if they weren’t, but the future is bright, it’s healthy and it’s something that England can take a huge amount of comfort in.
This team is so young, they’re not jaded, they’re allowed to play the football they want with a manager who trusts them, and they genuinely interact with the fans – and have made it clear they’ve seen and appreciated the support.
It’s that which has united a country during the World Cup, and perhaps more interestingly, that achievement – giving England fans hope and bringing football home in terms of their joy and connection to it, is as impressive as Southgate bringing home the World Cup.