I’m not going to be too critical of England as the way the team has behaved, been managed and played has restored my faith in the national team.
You cannot say that Southgate did not maximise the talent available. He played to their strengths and it got them to the semi-final.
But as I said to you before the World Cup, I could see that happening. But when it got to the business end of competition that extra quality would catch up with them, and that came in form of Modric!
At the start of the game, England ran the legs off Croatia, they were completely stretched and all over the place, and Kane should have made it a deserved 2-0.
But he missed, the game settled, Croatia got their distances right and began to dictate the pace of the game, Sterling threat dissipated.
Modric then set about passing the legs off of England, and you could see the midfield physically wilt in front of you as they shuttled over the width of the pitch following the ball with Rakitic, and more so Modric, being the conductors to the orchestra,
I wanted Sterling off, and another player in midfield, and would have been even braver and taken Kane off, as he was peripheral, poor even, and put Rashford up as a lone striker, and had Loftus-Cheek replace Kane to sit in the overrun midfield. England had no shots on target in 2nd half and extra time.
The goal was coming, first the post was hit, and then a world class, brave save from Pickford and then the goal, all from Mandzukic quality and instinct.
He is not fast, he is not particularly anything to look at, but he has instinct and technique, and the goal itself was his mental alertness against a completely fatigued England.
Everything about that goal and defending in last hour of the game was England running out of legs due to the relentless passing of the Croatian team, who deserved the win for keeping composure and sticking to their strengths.
I think France will win easily in the final. Far too much strength and power in the midfield, and with Mbappe the cutting edge.
But I will be supporting a Croatian team that shows true pride and togetherness and has 4 players of real quality, Perisic, Modric, Rakitic and Mandzukic.
Better England teams might not get this far again. Belgium, with the best team in a generation, much better team than England, but they had to beat Brazil, and then came up against a very good France side.
Will an England team ever get a kinder run to the final than 2018?
However, the U17 team that won the World Cup last season has some genuine talent, there is new freshness and enthusiasm for the England team, it’s back on track as an entity and with that infusion of the U17 talent we could see some truly competitive England teams at top table again in next 10 years.
That’s what this tournament will have succeeded in doing, in bringing some pride back to the nation in their football team, and hopefully inspire the next talent up to want to be part of future England success.
After the Iceland debacle, literally nobody at that point cared anymore. That’s Gareth’s greatest achievement, getting those, like me, to care again, as we were all but lost.
Enjoyed the World Cup in general, looking forward to the final to close that enjoyment out with a good open game, and then it’s a short break, complete getaway from football, news, everything.
Then ready for an Arsenal without Wenger, which excites me all on its own! Just something different to look forward to.
Agree about new Arsenal era.
I’m up for it. Everybody is re-energized and optimistic.
Our Iceland result in Nice was a trauma two years ago that still seemed recent and I wondered if that scar would ever heal. But Gareth Southgate has changed England and his World Cup semi-final makes that seem a blip on a very distant horizon.
Iceland suddenly seems a very long time ago.