So, football isn’t coming home – defeat to Croatia 2-1 in extra time. You can argue the England performance in this World Cup on two contrasting levels.
First, we did far better than anyone expected – which we did. Some terrific performances along the way. Lots to build on with all the young players coming through.
Second, we beat nobody any good – Tunisia, Panama, lost to Belgium’s reserves, Colombia and Sweden. We had a huge slice of luck, with Spain and Germany, not getting through our side of the draw. But you can argue we deserved that down the years in the wake of previous World Cup outrages such as cheat Diego Maradona’s Hand of God and Frank Lampard’s disallowed ‘goal’ in South Africa when it was miles over the line.
Ironic that Gareth Southgate goes out as a player at the semi-final stage of Euro 96 and goes out at as a manager at the semi-final stage of World Cup 2018. His performance in Russia was over-hyped and now, one suspects, he will be over-criticised. All too often in this tournament we have sat back and sought to defend a lead when attack is always the best form of defence. And so it proved against Croatia.
Ahead from the 5th minute via a great free kick by Kieran Trippier, we missed the opportunity to kill it off with Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard fluffing wonderful chances. We were all over them in the first half, totally dominant.
Then second half we gradually went deeper and deeper, allowed them to play, tried to defend our advantage ridiculously far out, and payed the price. Goals by Perisic in the 68th minute and Mandzukic in the second period of extra time. Southgate’s use of substitutes, not for the first time, was appalling. Not getting them on soon enough and ending up with ten men – how do you do that? And was the composition of the team ever right?
Dele Alli never really imposed himself, Lingard was mostly unconvincing and Kyle Walker was always uncomfortable playing centre back – responsible for the Perisic goal. Raheem Sterling stretches defences with his blinding pace but can’t score at international level and constantly runs up blind alleys. It left Kane isolated. No creative midfielder in the role of Luka Modric. The big positives were John Stones, Harry Maguire, Trippier and Jordan Pickford, a base to work off.
England now play Belgium again in the third and fourth placed play-off on Saturday, and will probably lose because the Belgians are far more skilful and our boys will be out on their feet. The “final” was France v Belgium.
Prediction for Sunday’s France v Croatia showdown, 4-1 to France. Sadly, we will not be seeing the expression on Novichok Putin’s face had he been handing the trophy to England!
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