Football is coming home.......well not quite

By: Steven Edwards

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Sadly for England their World Cup dreams came crashing down around them on a night to forget at the Luznikhi Stadium in Moscow.

Rather than feel sombre like most of the country was this morning on their commute into work with a hangover worse than most people will experience after a party, it is time to start reflecting on what was one of the most enjoyable and uplifting World Cup’s from an England perspective since the days of Gary Lineker, David Platt and Paul Gascoigne.

Gareth Southgate had taken over the England job less than two years ago after the sudden departure of Sam Allardyce and in that time has moulded this team into something very special that has grown in stature during his tenure as Manager.

England qualified for the World Cup Finals with relative ease and found themselves in a group they were expected to come through with ease but up until Harry Kane scored that late goal in the opening game against Tunisia, it may have been a very different campaign that may never have got going. That goal seemed to spark England and led to them trouncing Panama in the next game before playing a game they were better served to lose than win against Belgium, who will be their opponents on Saturday in a game that nobody wants to play in.

With the loss against Belgium in the rear-view mirror, England found themselves in what would turn out to be the easier half of the draw and now the country started to wonder how far this young team could go. When you think of England in the latter stages of the World Cup, you tend to think of disappointment and it won’t be long till you think of a dreaded penalty shootout. Rewind back to Euro 96 and you will think of Southgate missing that penalty against Germany. It wouldn’t be long before this England team would taste this potential heart-breaking scenario, as they stumbled against Colombia and the game went down to penalties. Jordan Henderson was almost the villain as he missed his penalty, but Jordan Pickford made an incredible save as England managed to exercise not only their manager’s demons but some of their own as well.

With Colombia now out of the way, England would face a Sweden side that had come through a tough group and could test England, but this game was never in doubt. As much as the previous game had tested the nerves of every Englishman, this game was the complete opposite as England looked very comfortable as they booked their place in the Semi Finals with a 2-0 win.

England had not been to the semi finals of the World Cup since 1990 and only Croatia stood in their way of making the final for the first time since Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy at Wembley in 1966. Despite an early goal from England, they never put Croatia away and the longer the game went on, the tension increased with every chance Croatia created and eventually they would equalise. For the first time in this magical journey, the lack of experience in the team was beginning to show as Croatia seemed to pick England apart at will. England were holding on and might have been wishing for a penalty shootout throughout extra time. However, Croatia had other ideas and with 12 minutes left they went ahead for good and you could hear a pin drop in a country that had been so united behind this team from the moment a ball was kicked in the first game.

The journey might be over in Russia but in the coming weeks the team will reflect on this tournament and whilst they might see this as a missed opportunity to have reached even bigger heights, they will still be very proud of themselves. This team united a country in a way not seen since London 2012 and we will all remember this World Cup in a very positive way.

Steven Edwards

Twitter - @TalkSportSteven

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